I enjoyed reading Community Builder a feature in Sunday’s Seattle Times describing developer Ron Sher and how he transformed Bellevue’s Crossroads Mall into a “third place”, a center of community activity, not just a place to shop but a place to share with neighbors.
I grew up in a neighborhood within walking distance of the mall. Although we lived in a nice area, homes that had views of the lake, we felt ashamed to say we lived near Crossroads. The reputation was not great, as the article describes:
Sher took over the failing 1962 shopping center in 1988 when “there wasn’t a tree in the parking lot. It was monolithic, it was ugly, and it had no character.” Bellevue was changing from upscale suburbia to a more complex and ethnically diverse community, but no retailer had adjusted. Instead, Crossroads, about 2Â½ miles east of downtown Bellevue, had a reputation for crime, gangs and drugs.
..One arm of the concourse was known as “Death Valley” because nine of 10 stores were vacant. In a futile attempt to keep kids from using the half-empty parking lot as a drag strip, previous owners had erected a building in the middle of the asphalt. ..
Crossroads wasn’t a place I would go to shop, unless I had to walk through it on the way home, after being abandoned there by a bus. Or if we were snow-bound, then I’d tromp up the hills in my boots to buy food. The mall was empty and ugly indeed. Stores would come and go with the seasons. I remember clearly the marquis sign for the cinema, out in the parking lot, tall and white with those black letters, the kind someone had to install while standing on a ladder, often mismatched and misspelled. When I left home to go to college on the East Coast, I was convinced Crossroads was about to be abandoned and go bankrupt. It had that kind of atmosphere and aura around it.
Surprise – after I went East and came back home to visit, I didn’t recognize the mall. What a fun food mart! Instead of the old cinema, there was a new theater where Ted and I went with my family to see Jurassic Park, wonderful surround-sound and all, the kind of place perfect for watching gigantic dinosaurs. I never would have imagined Crossroads in the past having such an asset. My brother played on the stage with his band. Now I want to shop there, and I’d try to sneak in a stop when I’d go to visit my mom, going through the Old Navy and Michael’s. A restoration, resurrection of sorts, but even more than that, since the developer gave Crossroads what it had never had in the first place – a rich niche, an identity, liveliness – and it is now a center of the community.
In short, he has built his own Sim City, a more modest Bellevue to go with the more famous and upscale one to the west. “He’s created a second downtown,” Mayor Marshall says. And now families come to hang out instead of gangs. It’s laid-back, utilitarian, plain, comfortable and eclectic….
Crossroads remains a relatively modest suburban shopping mall, built for the automobile. But it has created a community spirit that its larger, slicker brethren don’t have. It has become a “third place.”
Complete with cutesy art such as this: a 1967 Volkswagen, covered with concrete, provides a sitting and leaning spot outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office . There’s bookstores, a library branch, public market food court with all kinds of cuisine from Thai to Russian, giant chess set and stage, and a great mix of folk: jazz singers, children, bloggers…
Yeah, I added that “bloggers”…Ted has gone there a couple times for a Puget Sound bloggers dinner , the first time in January. Wifi and all there in the mall, in the midst of the food court, laptops on tables. I laughed. If someone had told me twenty years ago that my future husband would be blogging from Crossroads, hanging out with a bunch of buddies and laptops…I wouldn’t have believed a bit of it!
According to Anita’s post today , there will be another blogger meeting this Thursday at Crossroads. We can’t make it this week, but maybe I should try to come along to one of them one of these days now that I have a blog also… Now me on the laptop using wifi at the Crossroads, what a sight that would be…:)
“I like to take the old and give it something new.” says Sher.
New indeed. A word that comes to mind is hope. Another one is redemption. Redemption seems a bit strong a word to use for a shopping mall, but I think the word fits in a way, even to this developer and a bunch of buildings in a community, an aspect, an illustration of what it means to redeem something, to give it a purpose and place.
I enjoyed learning how this developer changed my old neighborhood mall, bringing it new life and liveliness….and maybe I’ll even want to go back there now