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Not only CityLife: the silent invasion of shopping malls in city centres

06 November, Linkiesta

A new shopping mall is going to open on 30th of November in Milan, in ex Fiera area. It will be, however, different from many others that have been opening their door during the last 20 years in Italy (their number has by now exceeded a thousand). It’s going to be a urban shopping mall, like the ones that since a decade have been opening in France, United Kingdom and Central Europe. Now, they’ve started appearing also in Italy, in Milan, Rome, Verona and Bolzano.

The “shopping district” of Milan will be located at the centre of a new neighbourhood called CityLife, amongst 3 new skyscrapers by Hadid, Libeskind and Isozaki. It’s going to be partially underground, partially outdoor, partially enclosed around a square. And it will be very close to a subway stop, while parking spots will be underground. It will host stores (just below 80), lots of restaurants (approximately 20) and various services, such as beauty and medical centres. What once used to be called “nutritional anchor”, when hypermarkets were still the main attraction to people going to shopping centres, will now be a 1,200 Sq m “gourmet” supermarket managed by Carrefour, a company which is looking for redemption, after many years of not so enthusiastic results in Italy.

What matters, apart from the names, is that CityLife Shopping District will be the face of a new kind of commercial building, integrated into the urban fabric and no longer placed in the suburbs or in an extra-urban context. The new upcoming spaces are not only commercial but also residential and executive, with public areas and a considerable amount of public green. The tendency is well described in a recent publication, Retail Trends, curated by Cocuzza & Associati law firm, which is strongly focused on retail. Marco Pellizzari, the general manager of the development of Sonae Sierra Italy, the company that will manage the assets and the properties on behalf of the shopping centre in partnership with Generali Real Estate, describes the Shopping District City Life project: “The trend we are recording shows a change in lifestyle habits and buying behaviour of people living in metropolis, with a return to cities and  a business integrated with other urban functions, accessible by public transportation.

The publication reaffirms the concept in several passages. For instance, there is a very interesting example reported by Luca Maganuco, managing director of Multi Italy, a company that handles the management, development and ownership of shopping malls in Europe and Turkey: “The development of new commercial buildings in Italy will be increasingly linked to the redevelopment of extra-industrial zones now integrated into the city centres, rather than in extra-urban areas. There will obviously be exceptions in case of regional shopping malls such as Il Centro of Arese (Milan), that considering its dimensions and visits, cannot be developed inside the city. The opportunities for retailers are the extension of opening hours and the distribution of visits in a more balanced way between week and weekends”.

The mall in the city, in Bolzano, Roma, Verona

The Milan project will be shortly followed by similar concepts. In Bolzano, a new shopping mall – WaltherPark – will rise in the city centre, in the area between the train station, Piazza Verdi and the heart of the city, Piazza Walther. It will also have 100 stores, but it will also host 150 flats, a 100-rooms hotel, offices and public spaces (from the autonomous province of Bolzano), a senior centre, a conference hall and a series of facilities dedicated to youth and leisure. The public spaces have been increased after the public debate which led to a referendum, approved by the citizens. The project is by David Chipperfield’s, and for the realization of the complex, the developers of Signa have been purchasing properties from privates for a decade. The developer company built a similar mall in Innsbruck, called Kaufhaus Tyrol, and located it in the very central square of Maria Teresa of Austria. In Bolzano, the demolitions will begin in the early months of 2018 and the opening is scheduled for 2021.

Before that, it’s going to be Rome’s turn. in March 2018 the Aura will open – Valle Aurelia Mall, just 800m from the Vatican. It will also be a multifunctional mall, with 21k Sq m of retail area. It will be located few steps away from the Vatican walls, between Aurellio and Trionfale districts. The disputes didn’t lack in the past, mainly because the quantity of some initially planned public works, like the swimming pool, has been reduced. As it can be read on the project website, “it’s a private project that fits in an urban recovery plan under development just beside Monte Ciocci where, among other things, it’s expected the resolution of some urban shortcomings, such as the completion and the reorganization of essential services – streets, parking places, sewers and public illumination – and the realization of spaces for leisure and community services. The project also sees the requalification of the Veschi furnace, which is going to be restructured and destined to cultural activities, as a tangible memory of the historic “Valley of hell””. The project developer is CDS Holding, while Forum Estate Management is the asset manager, Savills Larry Smith is appointed for the management. On the Facebook page of the project, the progress of the works has been documented and the citizens’ scepticism regarding the controversies is being answered, mainly concerning its impact on the area once it will be open.

While in Verona, on 30th March, the Adigeo mall, containing 130 stores, was inaugurated. Implemented by Ece in collaboration with the commercial developer CDS Holding, it’s not located inside the city centre but in the southern area, a location that once hosted the Adige Workshops warehouses (now abandoned). This was, therefore, a redevelopment, restoration and urban fabric regeneration work.

The start of a new course

All the experts consulted by Linkiesta agree on the fact that we are only at the beginning of the process. According to Luca Zanderighi, professor for marketing and innovation at the Università Statale in Milan, “certainly, there is a tendency going on; it’s not about 4 isolated episodes. The reasons – he adds – are different. Firstly, there is in the ageing of people, that prefer easily reachable centres. Secondly, there are more and more attempts to contain soil consumption and recover dismissed areas and containers. The urban shopping malls tendency it’s going to be always more widespread”. Zanderighi, together with the professor for urban planning at Politecnico in Milan, Luca Tamini, has examined in depth this trend in a recently published volume, dedicated to the delicate relationship between city and shopping malls, called “Commercial dismissions and resilience – new urban regeneration policies”.

“These are realities widespread in Europe, but a lot less in Italy”, comments to Linkiesta Simone Burasanis, leasing responsible for Rustioni & Partners, the company promoting the marketing of Walther Park of Bolzano. “The reason for this delay is that it has always been difficult getting building permits in Italy. The shopping mall has always been seen by the authorities granting permits as something to be placed outside the city circle. In addition, it has never been easy to find large enough land and areas to implement this kind of facilities.” If things are changing”, he adds, it’s because “we ran out of out-of-city shopping malls in Italy too. The new projects pipeline is at a standstill. The developers and the final customers want something that has never been done before”. In order to be successful, however, “the new shopping centres have to be not only more convenient, but they also have to have an appeal that the traditional ones don’t have, in terms of catering offer as well as in terms of aesthetical appealing. The truth is that nowadays the competition of online shopping is ruthless. Shopping malls are going to survive only if they will be able to differentiate. The ones built in the city can better changes in doing so, they’re very expensive but they have a better customer retention”.

According also to Corrado Vismara, managing director for Savills Larry Smith, the company that is marketing the Aura mall – Valle aura in Rome, these are the occasions they have been expecting. “Shopping malls developers have always been interested in choosing locations that are strategic for their projects and an urban context is generally preferable than an extra-urban one – he explains. Unfortunately, during the expansion phase of our cities, urban planners didn’t take the great opportunity of utilizing shopping malls as a crucial infrastructural element of growth; this happened also because of the veto towards big distribution that is one of the most relevant components (although not the only one) of shopping centres. Recent regulations limiting the use of green areas should in the future encourage the development of projects in a more urban context such as dismantled industrial sites, barracks or public buildings”. Regarding this matter, the national association of shopping malls, CNCC, dedicated the Deep Renovation conference, last April.

The European boom of shopping centres in the city

What is now arriving in Italy is, however, just a reflection of a trend that has been developing in Europe over the last decade. Tiziana Bardi, engineer for StudioBardi/cad38, with offices in Milan, Liguria and Paris, explains: “There has surely been a trend towards these solutions in the last 10 years in Europe, at least. They are not only sopping but multifunctional malls. They feature offices, gyms, medical centres and other services. They can be a point of strength for the urban fabric”. The list of the facilities is rather long. Only in France, the most famous ones are the “Confluence” project in Lyon (an extensive renovation project of a neighbourhood, with dwellings, offices, a shopping mall that extends over 150 hectares, a museum, and a sports area); the shopping mall Beaugrenelle in Paris, in the central area of Grenelle (XV arrondissement, the most densely populated of the French capital), a structure taken as a model for its interior design and for its high-end boutiques it hosts. In Paris, there are also La Defense and the refurbished Des Halles worth to be mentioned. Other similar cases are the “Meriadeck” in Bordeaux, a hyper-central hub, the docks area in Marseille, the Cap 3000 in Nice. “There have been also projects that encountered difficulties, urban and commercial”, Tiziana Bardi adds, “like the area of the Millenaire shopping centre in Paris, because to the conversion of that area of the city in which it’s located was not effective, considering that areas psychologically hard to reach still remain”.

In central Europe, we can count the Zote Tarasy project, in the centre of Warshaw, and the Palladium, in the centre of Prague. In Moscow, a visionary project by ADG Group is transforming 39 old soviet cinemas in commercial areas.

Liverpool’s One case has been carefully studied in the volume by Luca Tamini and Luca Zanerighi. During the difficult requalification process of the area behind the harbour, the dialogue between citizens and the Municipality of Liverpool was crucial. This allowed overcoming the idea of a single shopping mall and guaranteed the vitality of the central zone through the integration with the already existing businesses. In order to do this, it was necessary to bet on a project in which the public sector was the owner of the land and therefore it could actively participate in the project for new commercial functions integrating with the already existing ones, as the authors underline.

A complicated relationship with the city

The desire to bring back in the city the commercial activities that moved to the suburbs over the years is one of the interpretations that can be given to the comeback of shopping malls in the cities. Luca Tamini, from Politecnico in Milan, explains: “If we think about Milan, a big transformation in the extra-territorial area of the city is taking place. In Segrate, (where the Westfield super-mall will take place), in Sesto San Giovanni (with a commercial project in ex-Falk area), in Arese (where the Centro touched the record of 13 million visitors in one year and a 600-million-euro turnover), in Locate Triulzi (headquarters of Scalo Milano). Shopping has always eluded Milan. Today, in Milan city there is the tendency instead to bring back commerce in urban areas. An example is the whole area of Piazza Cordusio (where, amongst others, Uniqlo and Starbucks are coming soon). The Municipality is even planning to award those businesses opening in the city centre.

The relationship with business owners in the old towns is certainly complicated when it comes to urban shopping malls, “way more than traditional projects”, stresses Burasanis, referring to Bolzano. “It’s more than necessary to create a public debate like in France and in the United Kingdom – Zanderighi says. “Unfortunately, we don’t have this mindset. We could do a lot more. These interventions need to be supported by public consensus”. In the case of Arndale shopping centre, in the centre of Manchester, a non-marginal part of commercial spaces was left to local businesses, also with a strong ethnic connotation.

The key points, according to Tiziana Bardi, are two. The first is that their acceptance would be much greater if the new commercial-directional pole was a reconciliation element with the city, for example, recovering dismissed areas, a railway line, or an exhibition hall. If this is seen just as a financial speculation instead, people will be not supporting the projects. The second point is that the city administration must facilitate the relationship with the territory. How? “By creating a promenade linking the shopping centres with the territory. It has to be a circuit, there have to be multiple poles among which people can circulate. And the circuit must not be bare: we need lighting, stores, there must be no gaps, it must have people’s attention with no interruption, form a commercial point of view but not only. This is the magic formula city administrations have at their disposal”.

“This is”, the engineer stresses, “what should be implemented also in Milan”. “Where”, she adds, “CityLife is a bit scary. The merchants of Corso Vercelli, via Piero Della Francesca, McMahon are worried. Because it’s huge and can have an impact on nearby areas. This is the reason why a well-prepared path is necessary. People going to CityLife, if they have the chance to take a walk, can easily continue towards via Piero Della Francesca, through via Domodossola. It’s a path worth to tried, even though it takes several years to consolidate new habits”.

Source: Linkiesta

Translator: Cristina Ambrosi

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