Vallco Shopping Mall, in the heart of suburban Silicon Valley, is a classic example of the dying shopping center. Half the stores are empty, the food court is abandoned, and people leave Yelp reviews talking about their fear of zombie ambushes in the eerie corridors.
So now developers plan to start over. The mall and the sprawling adjacent parking lot may be turned into a new walkable neighborhood, topped with the largest green roof in the world.
"It's not easy to be a shopping mall these days," says Reed Moulds, managing director at Sand Hill, the developer behind the $3 billion redesign. "We've done some research and we haven't found a single shopping mall that's started construction since 2006. This is clearly a dying model. That's on display at Vallco."
After months of community meetings, the developers realized they had to take a completely different approach to the mall—not just knock it down and add new stores. The new design, if it's approved by the city of Cupertino in 2016, will have a downtown-like street grid with town squares for farmers markets, and will be lined with stores, offices, and hundreds of apartments.
All of this will be wrapped inside a 30-acre park with running trails, vineyards, orchards, and gardens.
"For us, the challenge was how do we bring to the community the town center they've wanted for decades, revitalize retail at this location, but also meet their desire for a model for sustainable growth and a desire for open space," Moulds says. "The 30-acre community park and nature reserve was what they've always wanted."
The design also tries to make it easier for people to walk or bike in an area where cars are used for even the shortest errands. "It's a 50-acre, inaccessible, auto-dominated, super block—a massive building surrounded by a sea of parking—walled off from the surrounding neighborhood," he says. "Our goal was to transform that to a walkable city, a walkable town center."
The new mini-downtown will connect with the surrounding community, prioritize cyclists and pedestrians, and connect to transit; the developer plans to privately fund a shuttle service in the area, since public transportation is so lacking.
The new center is also being designed to LEED platinum standards, the highest LEED rating. The park will be planted with drought-tolerant gardens that are watered with recycled water; the green roof will double as an energy-efficient way to keep the neighborhood below cool.
The project isn't the first to turn an old mall into a park and walkable neighborhood. It's just more evidence of how suburbia is slowly changing.
"I think there's going to be a lot of opportunities to be very creative about how we reinvent our malls that aren't used the way that they've been used in the past," Moulds says. "This was an organic approach, driven by community engagement, that at the end of the day resulted in the largest green roof in the world."