Demolition Likely for Westland Mall — But What Comes Next?
The formerly iconic Westland Mall may soon be no more. Officials from Franklin Township are currently discussing options with mall owners Plaza Properties, and all signs are pointing toward the eventual demolition of the building.
Local retail strategist Chris Boring, owner of Boulevard Strategies, says that while expensive, demolition is likely the best course of action. He’s been called in to consult with multiple owners of the Westland Mall as the property has continued to change hands over the past twenty years.
“I’ve seen this happen over and over again throughout the whole state,” he explains. “A mall goes dead and until the existing building is demolished, new development proposals never go anywhere. It’s hard for people to visualize a new concept when there are existing buildings sitting empty. And no one ever wants to pay for the demolition, so it becomes a quote-unquote public-private partnership.”
The Westland Mall first opened in 1969, as one of the city’s four main mid-century suburban retail centers. Originally designed as an open-air center, the mall was enclosed to create its current form in 1983. The mall was known as a premiere shopping destination for the region for several decades before sliding into a decline throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The opening of the Tuttle Mall in 1997 created a strong new competitor for the area, which was further compounded by the opening of Easton Town Center in 1999 and Polaris Fashion Place in 2001.
“Tuttle was the first main competition, but not too long after that we saw a lot of new development along Stringtown Road, which brought in a lot of new big box retail,” says Boring. “Westland lost its position in the market in the late 90s and early 2000s.”
In addition to the increased competition, Boring says that the entire West Side of Columbus suffers from other issues, despite having solid demographics to support retail. He states that the current median household income in the Westland area is $55,000, which is higher than the citywide average of $49,000.
“The area has its difficulties with crime and safety perceptions, and it hasn’t gained a lot of population compared to other parts of the county,” he says. “But there are 35,000 people in that area, which is the equivalent of a pretty good sized city.”
Currently, the 860,000 square foot mall is completely vacant except for Sears — the only remaining tenant in the building. Other entrances have been boarded up, though it has not kept vandals and copper thieves from breaking into the vacant structure to strip out salvageable materials.
Rumors have swirled for nearly a decade about a possible “Weston” development, which could see the area rebuilt as a lifestyle shopping center similar to Easton Town Center. Boring thinks that idea seems a bit over the top.
“Weston is nice nickname, but it’s a real overreach — I don’t see anything to that scale happening at that site,” he says. “I think it has to be focused more on the local community. I do think that the developers — if they could build something new — they could bring in some of the retailers you can find on the north side or east side of the city. The people who live on the West Side — I think that’s all they’ve really wanted.”
Some residents on the West Side were hopeful that the opening of the nearby Hollywood Casino would breathe new life into the old mall and the surrounding retail properties. But after three years of operation, little has changed outside the walls of that building, and even Target is shuttering its nearby store.
“I certainly don’t think the Casino has been the economic development savior that it was advertised as for the West Side,” states Boring. “What we’re seeing is that people don’t gamble and go shopping on the same trip — certainly not at the discount stores in the area. That probably impacts the owners of Westland Mall in terms of how they’re thinking about repositioning the center. They’re going to have to go after other submarkets, like the young population in the area, and create something more family-oriented, or targeting the Latino market, which is very strong on West Side.”
The owners of the Westland Mall have been contacted for comments on the future of the property, but have not responded to inquiries as of the time of publishing.
All photos by Walker Evans.