The next time you drive by Irving Mall and see lots of cars way after closing time, there’s probably a wedding or a quinceañera going on inside.
Likewise, at Valley View Center in Dallas, a space facing Preston Road has hosted many bar mitzvahs in the years since it was a Pier 1 Imports store.
Luxury shopping center Highland Park Village has turned an empty restaurant into a private party and meeting space on its second level of the Village Theater building. Amenities include two bars, a kitchen and two balconies.
Shopping centers are looking for non-traditional types of tenants as department stores depart and specialty stores close under pressure from online shopping and newer, fresh competitors. Their big spaces and parking lots make shopping centers a natural for large gatherings.
“Spaces for parties and business meetings are in demand in big and small communities,” said Mark Bulmash, senior vice president of development at Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corp. Locally, the company has joined with Hillwood to develop a 130-acre, mixed use project at Circle T Ranch in Westlake.
Howard Hughes owns and develops commercial real estate including shopping centers and is revitalizing the Seaport District in Manhattan.
That project’s Pier 17 is getting a 1.5 acre rooftop venue for special events.
“The rooftop space overlooks the East River and will be a world class venue and a community space,” Bulmash said. “It could be rented out for fashion shows or we could host movie nights for the neighborhood.”
Event space may be the next big user mixed in with local shopping center redevelopments that have included office, apartments and healthcare facilities. Many new hotel concepts don’t have large ballrooms and meeting spaces.
Before they’re all knocked down, could those big, bold 1970s and 1980s atrium spaces find a new life as ballrooms?
In Dallas, Southwest Center Mall’s redevelopment includes plans to keep its center court as future event space. It already looks like a grand hotel ballroom. There’s plenty of parking and a Marriott Courtyard is part of the plans.
“The value of visiting a shopping mall extends beyond retail as properties continue to incorporate non-traditional tenants,” said Stephanie Cegielski, spokeswoman at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
And, Cegielski said, that includes “unique experiences that can’t be shipped in a box” like a wedding or a graduation party.
Irving Mall has two banquet halls, and they’ve helped to make the mall more of a central place for the community, said Jon Schweers, general manager for Irving Mall. The spaces stay busy hosting weddings, sweet 16 celebrations, graduation parties and baby showers, he said.
Operators lease the space just like any retail tenant would.
Las Lomas Irving Banquet Halls and Event Center opened at the mall in March 2014. Grand Finale Ballroom Y Banquetes, which has the same owner of Los Lupes Mexican Restaurant, has been around since 2010. The Grand Finale is a 12,000-square-foot space had been a movie theater and sat empty for more than a decade. It has its own exterior entrance and lots of parking.
While some aging malls like Irving Mall and Valley View have found event space as a substitute for traditional tenants that have moved out, that’s not always the case.
The largest U.S. mall, the Mall of America in Minnesota, has had private event space since it opened in 1992 and recently replaced an old great room with a new one with an outdoor balcony that overlooks Nickelodeon Universe. It’s used a lot for proms, school events and bar mitzvahs.
“It’s a popular prom venue when you can also ride a rollercoaster,” said spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt. The mall also has executive meeting rooms and has an entire department that runs the spaces that are booked almost every weekend.
There’s local demand.
“We’ve thought of adding event space and haven’t decided yet,” said Kristen Gibbins, director of marketing at NorthPark Center. “We’re very fortunate to have garden and common spaces with art sculptures that we use and offer to community groups. It’s free access for private events.”
Highland Park Village last year turned 3,834-square-feet last occupied by Five Creeks Tavern into space for rent and plans to use it that way at least through this spring.
Being on the second level makes it more private and gives it has a prime view overlooking the shopping center from two balconies, said Mia Meachem, chief marketing officer, Highland Park Village. “Not only is our venue extremely versatile and easy to transform, but it’s incredibly convenient and perfect for everything from cocktail parties to watch parties, and even corporate events.”
The center said it has had a good response for both daytime and evening events.
Last month on a Saturday, Jane Anne and Max Meggs rented the Highland Park Village space for their son Max’s first birthday and invited 60 friends and family including grandparents from out of town.
“We couldn’t fit everyone into our townhouse,” said Jane Anne Meggs. “He won’t remember it, but I will.”
The shopping center’s K.T. Burger made lunch and its Bird Bakery made the cake. That allowed this young mother to go home after the party, she said, and “take a nap.”