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A great big, beautiful tomorrow? Malls, MAPIC and the retailtainment revolution


Cannes’ annual MAPIC conference is primarily focused on the retail property market. However, recent years have seen its leisure division grow rapidly. In November a session highlighted the continued rise of retailtainment. Sam Gennawey was MC.

By Sam Gennawey

I have seen the future and it is probably coming to regional shopping center near you. Withsam gennawey disney visual contradictions the much talked about death of retail, shopping center operators are at a loss for what to do next. Some of the leading minds in the business have been pondering this question.

Graham Parker, Editor-in-Chief of MAPIC says, “Some [shopping malls] will become centres for leisure ‘ places where consumers interact with brands. A new generation of consumers values experiences as much as pure consumption and the mall of the 21st century is emerging as a place to do far more than just buy goods.”

We already see this happening. Tesla and Lincoln have displays inside of shopping centers. Your local Apple Store is about experiencing the technology. After all, Apple doesn’t care whether you buy your new phone in the store or online, they just want to sell you the latest iPhone.

The mall evolution

The savvy shopping center operator is already taking advantage of this trend. For example, the Mall of Europe, under construction in Brussels, will include a Spirouland theme park. The Redi Shopping Centre in Helsinki includes an experiential component with climbing, indoor skydiving, and a 7D-virtual world.

At MAPIC in Cannes in November, Dream Island in Moscow had a large display of their new project scheduled to open in 2018; the world’s largest indoor theme park. They expect to attract over 50 million visitors a year. That is more people than Las Vegas. In the United States, The American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, will include a DreamWorks indoor water park, a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, a 16-story Big Snow indoor ski slope and snow park, Sea Life Aquarium, Lego Discovery Center plus a 285-foot Ferris Wheel. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Other shopping centers that include a significant leisure component include the Wanda Mall of Qingdao Movie Metroplis in China, the Mall of Saudi in Riyadh, the Intu Costa Del Sol in Malaga, Spain, and the Mica Mall in Kish Island.

MutantMasher mall of america retailtainment

Retailtainment was on Disney’s desk

These ideas are also not new. In 1964, architect Victor Gruen outlined many of the elements necessary to create such urban spaces in his book The Heart of Our Cities ‘ The Urban Crisis: Diagnosis and Cure. This was also the only urban planning book on Walt Disney‘s desk at the time of his death. Disney thought Gruen had a unique insight and based much of his planning for E.P.C.O.T. on Gruen’s ideas.

Gruen suggested that a successful development, much like a successful city, require the following qualities or characteristics:

  • Compactness
  • Intensity of public life
  • A small-grained pattern in which all types of human activities are intermingled in close proximity

roller coaster in mall of america retailtainment nickelodeon

As a historian, I am reminded that Walt Disney created Disneyland in 1955 and Victor Gruen built Southdale Mall in Minnesota a year later. As a futurist, I am inclined to believe that the merger of the two ideas is the definition of the shopping center of tomorrow. I would also argue that the successful center of the future will include a civic presence, open space, micro commercial, food and beverage, physical and mental leisure experiences, and experiential opportunities to bond with products. People may not be walking out with more shopping bags but they will probably be spending a lot more time and money in these facilities.

Original, brave, barn spaces

So, what is a mall operator to do? Considering that most only see the business as a big barn where space is rented, they will soon see their centers becoming irrelevant. Creating public space is a side product to renting space. The successful operators will also recognize that creating public space is the only way to find enough tenants to fill out their big barns.

retailtainment west edmonton mall leisure mapic

Only a few have been brave enough to build something original. I was fortunate to be invited to MC the Leisure Division presentations at this year’s MAPIC. I was very impressed. The future is now. In the short-term, the more successful operators will be pounding the pavement for tenants like Funtopia, Gravity Trampoline Parks, HappyBox, AIsolve, Walltopia, or the interactive water features from Vortex or Citywave. An additional way to go is to franchise a brand name concept from companies like IP2Entertainment, Mycotoo or Paragon Creative.

In the long run, the whole idea of a shopping center will be upended. No longer will retail dominate. Instead, food and beverage, entertainment, and leisure activities will take up much of the floor space. It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow for those with a vision. Are we up to the task?

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Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an author, award-winning urban planner, and public speaker. He lives in Los Angeles California.

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