Dying malls fight to stay alive

Strategies put consumers in driver's seat

ORLANDO, Fla. - When holiday shopping season officially kicks off next week, malls will likely be filled with the hustle and bustle of shoppers.

But outside the prime retail seasons, many Central Florida malls have empty parking lots and empty retail space.

The best example is Festival Bay Mall near International Drive.  The space has a history of keeping tenants and attracting shoppers.

It's the same atmosphere at Oveido's Marketplace where they are leasing space to pet rescues and tattoo shops.

Non-traditional retail tenants are being brought in to make malls more like a community town center than just a retail shopping attraction, according to mall marketing directors.

"People want to go back to that town center concept and there are more and more services than just goods," said Dave Ackerman the former marketing director for Orlando's Fashion Square Mall.

Ackerman recently left Fashion Square for a different opportunity out of state.

Scarborough research shows Fashion Square's visitors are down 31 percent since 2006.   At Seminole Towne Center it's even more significant with 42% less visitors than 6 years ago.

Even at the Florida Mall, which is one of the most visited malls in Central Florida, research shows there has been a 33% drop in customers since 2006.    

"People do not have the disposable income that they had six years ago," said Ackerman who explained it's why retailers are offering much better prices on good you spend a lot more on in the past.

But to find those deep discounts, he said the consumer actually has to go to the mall.

"Those opportunities kind of abound.  It used to be that you had to go to an outlet center or you had to wait so far off-season that you didn't want the goods anymore.  That's not the case anymore," he said, explaining that items are getting marked down to more than half off original retail prices sooner than ever before.

In addition, Ackerman explained that goods you buy in the mall are manufactured at a higher quality than what you would buy at an outlet center. 

But Orlando's Fashion Square Mall itself is on sale.

The retail center is being sold by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a company that owns other malls in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The mall's new marketing director said it is being sold as a mall and as a retail space but it would be up to the new owner's to decide what to do with the property.

Right now, she said it is business as usual for holiday shopping at the mall.

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