December 9, 2004

Alderwood gets urbanized and upscaled

  • GGP repositions Alderwood to serve the most affluent sector of the Seattle metropolitan area.
    Special to the Journal

    Photo courtesy Callison Architecture
    The redesigned Alderwood shopping center brings stores outdoors, among streetscapes and open plazas.

    Thousands have been converging on Alderwood lately, filling two new 1,000-stall parking decks and flooding into the Village and Terraces expansions just in time for the holidays.

    The dumbbell-shaped, hermetically sealed mall now opens — through tall glass walls and swinging doors — onto "streets" and plazas exposed to the mild winter air.

    Alderwood Mall, originally built in 1979 where Interstate 5 meets Interstate 405, has been renamed simply Alderwood. Although the owner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, will not release financial data, local estimates put the cost of the expansion at about $50 million.

    Alderwood is one of 20 malls GGP is renovating or expanding. The company began managing the mall in 1997 under contract with then-owner DeBartolo. GGP has a portfolio of shopping malls in 41 states, and is the second largest regional mall REIT.

    The company has access to an enormous amount of market data. Why did it choose to invest in the Lynnwood area?

    Census data and demographic research show an influx of population to the northern neighborhoods of Seattle and nearby suburbs since 1997. And average household income levels in these areas are rising. For 2003 in the trade area, household income averages $75,000, the median age is 37, and the population is 680,000 — and growing.

    But traffic and sales at the mall were not keeping up with that growth. Surveys showed that consumers in the trade area were leaving to shop in Seattle and on the Eastside.

    GGP decided to make a bid for more market share by positioning Alderwood to become one of the malls that serve the most affluent sector of the Seattle metropolitan area.

    The company purchased Alderwood from DeBartolo in May of 1999, and began working with Callison Architecture on an expansion. At the same time, it worked with potential tenants including Pottery Barn, Borders Books, Williams Sonoma and Gene Juarez Spa. Their market research supported GGP's expansion plans. Three national theater chains also expressed interest in Alderwood.

    Urbanizing Alderwood

    The additions bring two human-scale, urbanized sides to Alderwood.

    On the south side, a large theater and parking complex at the edge of the original parking lot sets up the space for the Terraces, a mix of park-like landscaping and restaurants that connects with the food court in the existing mall.

    The focal point is a massive canopy, which shelters an indoor-outdoor fireplace at the entrance to the indoor mall.

    The north side of the mall opens out to the Village, five clusters of stores designed around streetscapes and open plazas. Shifting walkways and stepped storefronts meet complex geometries and textures in the paving, which ranges from rough pebbles to pavers to smooth concrete.

    Corner buildings for key tenants are positioned to add interest to the scene. Canopies, benches and artwork help create a hospitable outdoor environment.

    Including the Cineplex, additions to Alderwood more than double the gross leasable area of the 1.4-million-square-foot mall. Making it all work with anchors and new tenants without closing the mall involved luck and planning.

    Nordstrom has moved to the former site of Lamont's, which closed in 2000 due to bankruptcy and liquidation. GGP purchased the Lamont's store and pad for the expansion. The old Nordstrom pad, in a key location on the west side of the mall, is now the Village.

    The indoor mall has been enhanced with cosmetic work, including new ceiling panels, seating areas and color changes.

    So far, it seems the intense schedule and bold moves have paid off. Sales doubled at the new Nordstrom store, which opened in the fall of 2003, confirming the return of upscale shoppers to Alderwood. Sales data for other key retailers support this assumption.

    The numbers, according to Alderwood senior marketing director Tamera Wachter, exceed the most optimistic projections.

    City fire officials estimated first day attendance at 20,000. The following weekend, over 100,000 came, and the crowds have been steady since.

    According to an informal survey taken by GGP in the opening days, these are the regional visitors they had hoped for. For 18 percent, it was the first visit in over three months. Eighty five percent of respondents made a purchase, and those with household incomes of over $100,000 spent the highest daily average: $213.

    Lynnwood on the move

    Much of Alderwood's new business may be coming from Lynnwood itself.

    At the edge of the newly designated commercial core, a $30 million convention center, designed by the Zervas Group, is on track for completion this spring.

    The city of Lynnwood is reviewing a new downtown plan that would bring the city center up to speed, adding infrastructure and zoning revisions that would allow up to 12.3 million square feet of office, retail and residential space near the mall.

    The planning effort leverages $150 million in state investments in freeway access and transit facilities, making Lynnwood a hub for transit and an office alternative to downtown Seattle.

    About half of that money will go toward improvements to the interchange that connects Lynnwood with I-5 and I-405 near Alderwood. Just south of Lynnwood on I-5, a new, $64 million transit center and park-and-ride has been completed.

    The city supported the mall expansion from the start, meeting with the development team so inspections and code compliance measures would go smoothly.

    Seattle developer Mark Weed gave some advice to Lynnwood city officials in drafting the downtown plan.

    "The comprehensive plan details allow Lynnwood to be place that's open for business," he said, "a place for people to live, work, play recreate — and shop — without having to drive to Seattle."


    Clair Enlow can be reached by e-mail at

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