The Reinvention of the Nation’s First Modern Shopping Mall

The City of Southfield is undergoing probably one of the most interesting revival commercial property projects in the country.
Northland Center  in Southfield, Mich.

Northland Center in Southfield, Mich.

Southfield, Mich.—The City of Southfield is undergoing probably one of the most interesting revival commercial property projects in the country, after purchasing Northland Center, the nation’s first shopping mall, in December 2015. In the absence of any viable offers, local authorities wanted to avoid having an extensive abandoned site in their community, especially since this is a former regional attraction.

“The City did not want scrappers, graffiti, dumping or a boarded up site. Northland Oversight Group was created with representation from DDA, Providence Hospital, the City Council, City Attorney, City Planner and Mayor. Securing the premises and retaining property management were the first orders of business”, Southfield Mayor Ken Siver told Commercial Property Executve.

After conducting environmental studies, the municipality issued a request for quotation and received eight proposals from national and international companies. The City Council approved a planning team on March 21st, headed by engineering firm Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment of Livonia, Mich. This plan was chosen out of the eight proposals for the revival project. “The team consists of structural engineers, architects, planners, market analysts, public relations staff, environmental analysts and others. Clearing out the mall, assessing what is salvageable and selling property left behind is still underway”, Siver said.

The City of Southfield did not purchase the mall along with all of the adjacent buildings, but gradually obtained ownership of those properties. “Macy’s donated its store to the city. The purchase agreement for the former Target Store and (the surrounding) eight acres was approved by City Council on March 21. Negotiations continue with Triumph Church for the J.C. Penney building.  We expect to come to some arrangement shortly. It may include a land swap for some of the Northland property next to a property the church is bidding on”, the Mayor said.

What’s in store for Northland?

Once the ownership negotiations are completed, the next step will be to determine the uses of the extensive available space which has great infrastructure (it is strategically positioned near John C. Lodge Freeway and 8 Mile Road). “We see a mixed use development with housing, retail, office, R&D (research and development) facilities and walkable spaces.  Also, Providence Hospital to the north of the site will take some of the acreage for the expansion of its facilities. We also are considering not demolishing the entire mall as the former Hudson’s/Macy’s building is very sound and the mall itself has 385 basement rooms with considerable head room”, the Mayor said.

Local authorities are considering saving the basement for parking and data storage. Retail space will be limited to the periphery of the property, along Greenfield Road. One thing is certain, the site will be transformed. Detailed ideas on what the future mixed-use development at Northland will look like will be presented in August, when a preliminary plan will be available.

“Whatever the outcome, we won’t be recreating Northland … the site will not be another shopping center. I am very optimistic about the redevelopment of Northland. I believe that the recreation of the site will succeed and be a great boost to our city. The mall has run its course and now we reinvent”, Siver said. This is his promise for this former regional attraction of Metro Detroit.

Northland was designed by Austrian architect Victor Gruen and opened in 1954. After several expansions projects, the shopping venue featured as many as one hundred stores. Northland closed six decades later, in April 2015. Shortly after, the City of Southfield got involved in the revival process of this extensive property.

Image via Google Street View