Saturday, August 11, 2007

Polo Park Part 3

Polo Park is going through it third major expansion since its inception. This does not include development in its parking lot of restaurants such as Earls and Joeys but rather expansion and renovation to the mall proper.

As an aide before I get too far, it should be mentioned that the Polo Park website is so far behind the times that they don't even have Joeys listed as being located on Polo Park property. I'm sure Joeys is impressed after being there for some time now and are probably why they are paying for Polo Park management in the first place.

At ant rate, this post will talk about the inside of the mall and the lay-out of the mall.

First, let me say that if people thought the outside of the mall was ugly, the inside doesn't get much better. The 1986 expansion that put a second floor on the mall was so fraught with problems as to defy belief. The entrances in any location in the mall do little to show off the mall or to give someone direction as to where to go. One of the the worst sections is the north entrance by Sears. For decades, it has been a wind tunnel for people. For this reason and for the waste of space it represents, renovations are taking place at this portal. A large Sportchek is being built at this entrance.

It remains to be seen what sort of improvement this will make because once inside the mall, a visitor still has to pass by the blank wall of Sears for some distance until well inside the mall.

The 1986 expansion placed three escalators in the mall and one glass elevator. Other elevators exist in the Bay and Sears but if you are in a wheelchair, it can't be easy to get the second floor unless that is where you entered in the first place via the second floor parking deck.

There is a glassed roof in a few places but its use of natural light is done so poorly as to make it almost useless.

The center of the mall, where a set of escalators and the glass elevator is located, has a small open space that serves a variety of needs. One of the main things the space is used for it the Santa display for several weeks before Christmas. The space is underutilized thereafter and doesn't serve a role as a either a spot for people watching or where people might meet a friend before going shopping together.

One of the main problems in Polo Park is the food court. Hemmed in as it is beside Sears on the second floor, it is not pretty not is it easy to get in and out of. Originally built with 500 seats, there are often no seats to be found. It is that busy at times. Only a few of the restaurants, Moxie's and A&W have seats of their own away from the maddening crowds. Anyone hoping to have a dining experience where they can relax and chat in the mall would find it extremely difficult to do so. Moxie's is probably the only choice but for years that has meant fighting past the crowds in the food court to get to its entrance.

No doubt mall management have known about the problems of its food court for some time and this is why renovations are taking place in this area now. I'll reserve further judgment until I see what they have done.

I don't know how much of the present renovations on the inside can or will address the things mentioned here. At the moment, there appears to an attempt to beautify the inside by ripping out tired facades and flooring. Some mall stores are all also taking advantage of the time to do renovations or change their location in the mall altogether.

It has been 21 years since the last major upgrade and Polo Park simply was not keeping up with the latest models in look and substance.

Malls in North America have become destination spots. Many of the news malls in the U.S. have all manner of entertainment in them including dining, shopping, theatre and recreation . In the last several years, Polo Park has been concerned about getting income from the large parking space around the mall. The construction of Earls, Joeys, the Silver City movie theatre and Pier 1 Imports all took precedence over what was happening in the mall itself.

The synergy between the mall and a stand alone restaurant or movie theatre is difficult to see. Good for mall management in terms of rent but not so good for retailers inside the mall. Someone going to Silver City is not necessarily going to Polo Park.

In the U.S., many malls build movie theatres right inside the mall. Polo Park used to have a theater in the basement on the west side but they treated it as an afterthought. I'm sure St. Vital Centre benefits more from Silver City inside the mall than Polo Park does from its stand alone Silver City.

More in Part 4.

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