Interesting piece in the Herald-Sun a couple of days ago on Northgate Mall, focused on their hiring of a new manager -- a 42-year old newcomer with a UC-Berkeley MBA but no previous retail management experience.
There was a bit of a breezy tone to the article, a most optimistic spirit of Northgate's chances of making it despite competition from Southpoint. Besides the hiring of a new manager, however, there's not a lot of news to report. True, there are a couple of new stores coming -- notably fashion retailer 5-7-9, and electronics discounter TigerDirect (to the former Old Navy space.) But Northgate's owners are still expecting the outside plaza to not be fully leased until summer 2008, two full years after it opened.
Amusingly, the article pinned some hopes on Northgate's revitalization to that of downtown, arguing that all the residents coming in to Durham's center would help bring the mall back to life. Ironic, since of course it was the presence of Northgate that lured firms like Sears out of downtown and up to what was then considered the "suburbs."
I think the jury is out on whether Northgate will draw up from downtown, or whether areas like West Village and Heritage Square will draw retailers into the city center as a new destination for boutiques and more eclectic shopping. National retailers of the sort that would perch at Northgate are bottom-line driven on parking, and as good as the arrangements at West Village are for parking in an urban setting, strip-mall-minded national firms aren't widely comfortable settling in those environments.
On the other hand, these same retailers tend to be tied to formulae of demographic patterns around growth and income that themselves provide more discouragement to Northgate than downtown -- and the demographics aren't changing yet in the area immediately around Northgate, a point alluded to in the Herald-Sun piece.
I've made the case in the past that Northgate is fighting a battle that's tough to win, and I still think Northgate is an enigma inside an anachronism -- that is, a locally-owned enclosed shopping mall -- that makes it tough to compete for leases with national firms.
Still, you have to give credit to the Rands for their resiliency, and their willingness to invest more dollars in the business. If Northgate goes, it won't be for a lack of investment on the family's part. Eventually, I think the value of the land and the location, with improved highway access on the US 70 corridor, will still be far more likely to support mixed-use or residential than its current enclosed mall mode. But for now, we'll have to wait and see what opens up in the space.