Thursday, March 5, 2009


Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Friday, August 3, 2007
Author: RICHARD KELLEHER , The Republic

There are three major malls in northeast Phoenix. Two, Desert Ridge and Kierland Commons, are outdoor malls. The third, Paradise Valley, is the traditional enclosed mall built in the U.S. from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Having grown up in New Mexico and Arizona, I am partial to the plaza concept of a town. If you look at all three malls, two malls featuring a plaza concept are flourishing while the indoor Paradise Valley Mall is floundering. Both PV and Kierland are owned by California's Macerich Company, which is known as Westcor in Arizona.

Westcor marketing experts refuse to comment on PV's vacancy rate, but to the naked eye, it appears to exceed 20 percent, which is huge for a mall of any size. There appears to be thousands of square feet of retail space vacant. Vacant areas include a former movie theater and what was Robinson-May. It went through many name changes before merging with Macy's.

As I said, I grew up around a plaza environment. I thought these were unique to New Mexico and the West, but a recent PBS program educated me that the plaza concept goes back to antiquity.

Westcor could learn a marketing lesson from Santa Fe's plaza. Since around the 1400s, this plaza has known how to market itself. In the summer, which is a cool 80 to 90 degrees, there are lots of Native American ceremonials. From my understanding, the plaza has had these weekend events for about six centuries.

My favorite Santa Fe event is Zozobra. Zozobra happens a weekend in early September. According to the Web site, Zozobra kicks off "Fiestas de Santa Fe," held annually since 1712, with the plaza marketing experts introducing the new and improved (every good marketing expert uses this tactic at some time or another) Zozobra, or burning of "Old Man Gloom," in 1924.

During the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, when Native Americans around Taos killed about 400 Spaniards, Santa Fe is where the Spaniards fled for refuge. Even at this tumultuous period in the Southwest's history, those plaza marketing geniuses were there to expand the reputation of Santa Fe.

From a retail marketing perspective, when you look at the success of Kierland Commons and Desert Ridge, it appears the marketing experts of antiquity were right -- a plaza concept is the way to design a mall.

So what can Paradise Valley Mall do in its redesign? It doesn't need to re-create the plaza to compete, just adopt the concept. It can copy some of the marketing tools used by Kierland and Desert Ridge. A reader recently wrote that it is hard to find live entertainment in northeast Phoenix before 9 p.m. On most weekends, Desert Ridge and Kierland have bands playing outdoors that start at 7 p.m.

There are plenty of events, like Desert Ridge's tie-in with radio stations, which PV Mall could adopt. Imagine a short show in the afternoon when Faith Hill and Tim McGraw blow into town. First, it is good for the mall. Once upon a time, a game-show audition was held at PV mall and people from around the state showed up in northeast Phoenix.

Second, it is good for the promoter of the concerts. Unsold tickets could be sold at the mall event. Canadian rocker Avril Lavigne does this frequently. She also makes sure it is broadcast over a local radio station. Are you listening, Macerich executives? Then she makes sure it appears on YouTube, another marketing tool.

PV Mall can use its biggest trump card. It is enclosed and it can have these events during the heat of the day, offering a respite for area residents -- and cheap entertainment. The secret to making these events successful, as Desert Ridge exemplifies, is to do them consistently and publicize them.

PV Mall has another trump card. Almost a decade ago, the food court was updated. To appreciate the genius that went into this, you must visit the food court at night.

Other malls seemed to have withered in the Arizona sun, including Chris-Town and Metrocenter. Let's hope Macerich employs some marketing experts to get it back on track as one of the nation's premier malls.