Sunday, December 20, 2020

What's next for Lloyd Center?


What traditionally is the busiest season of the year for retailers likely will be the death rattle for the Lloyd Center, the huge shopping mall in Northeast Portland with 1.3 million square feet of retail, office and restaurant space.

Macy’s, the primary retail “magnet” at the mall’s most desirous location, will close Jan. 1.  The few shoppers showing up this holiday season are greeted by glaring yellow signs offering the sale of store fixtures, along with all other retail inventory.  Likewise, the GAP is closing its Lloyd Center location.  Gossip from the mall suggests that several others are likely not going to renew their leases in January.

Many of the mall’s small retail shops are already vacant, while those that remain are struggling, at best. Blame it on COVID-19, or the changing habits of retail shoppers, or some combination.  But reality is reality.  At age 60, the mall’s life in retail seems finished.

 Macy’s departure follows a several other giants – J.C. Penney, Sears, Nordstrom, J.J. Newberry, F.W. Woolworth, Marshalls and a multi-screen cinema – who left Lloyd Center over many years as the center’s gradual decline became increasingly evident.

 Cypress Equities, a Dallas, Texas firm, bought Lloyd Center in 2013 for $148 million.  It then launched an “upgrade” project that included shrinking the ice rink, eliminating the attractive pedestrian bridge over the ice and adding an elegant spiral staircase that is seldom trod by human feet.

 The question now is what happens to an urban footprint that amounts to 18 square blocks of valuable city real estate.  Cypress Equities should be no stranger to the challenges, since it owns 16 major shopping and mixed-use malls around the country. 

 One option would be to tear everything down and start over with high-rise apartments or office buildings allowed by the zoning regulations.   A couple years ago, the Lloyd Center was mentioned as a potential site for a major league baseball stadium, although talk of landing a team has gone largely silent.

Pedestrian street for housing? 

 While the original mall was a had a creative Mid-Century Modern cachet, the inevitable tinkerings of the retail world managed to snuff out its original architectural charm.  However, since one of the goals of preservation is to save the environment from wasteful demolitions, one can think of other potential uses for much of the center as it stands. 

Perhaps the easiest option is to convert all the smaller shops to office space.  The third floor along the major concourses always held offices for doctors and dentists.  A compromise might be to consolidate retail on one level, leaving two other levels for offices. 

Housing also could be a realistic possibility along the long, three-story concourses that run east and west from the ice rink.  All those small shops already are equipped with plumbing, which would make the transition easier to apartments or condominiums.  Removing the roofs that were added about 1990 would open apartments or condominiums to fresh air.

Covered parking could be available to tenants.  Some of the existing shops could become offices for doctors and dentists, or barber shops, hair salons, small eateries and convenience stores with built-in constituencies.  Since these areas are served by escalators and elevators, they would provide accessibility for a senior housing community.

At two and three stories, the largest former retail outlets pose more of a challenge for repurposing, given their size and limited natural light.  One possibility as a major tenant might be a large home improvement center.  Home Depot snooped for a site in the Hollywood District almost 20 years ago before backing off in a recession. 

 Another possibility could be demolishing the large stores at the east and west ends of the mall to make way for multi-story buildings of offices, condos or apartments.   Similarly, the largely unused parking structure at the mall’s northwest corner could be removed for more productive use of that real estate.

Joe Brown's Carmel Corn -- a survivor from the earliest days

 The Lloyd Center opened to massive crowds in 1960.  Its proximity to downtown Portland – about two miles – made some experts ponder whether both retail cores could be successful located so close together.  Downtown retail has been severely hurt by the pandemic and by political protests, making it questionable to say whether it is really the survivor, but in the long run it is a better bet than the Lloyd Center.  

 Regardless, Lloyd Center holds vivid memories for many Portland shoppers and diners who remember the early years of the open-air mall with its many retail and eating options.   Today it feels almost like a modern-day ghost town. 

 Now we have to wait and see how executives in Dallas, Texas, figure out what happens next. Or whether they sell out to some other developer with something else in mind. 




  1. Excellent article Fred. Please send this to Cypress, as your comments regarding future possibilities could be useful for them. It is sad to see the decline of what was once a vibrant shopping center. We all have treasured memories. Mine was meeting at the bridge.

  2. I moved to Portland in 2013 when Lloyd was still vibrant. Downtown, too, was still a magnet. Now there will be no major department stores left in central Portland. Maybe this is everyone's future but it's disturbing nonetheless that so much of Portland's vaunted quality of life is giving way to homeless tents and street retail enshrouded with plywood. I get that we're not supposed to talk out loud about these problems, but is there any force or movement out there trying to arrest Portland's descent into urban dysfunction?

  3. My treasured memory is a large chess event with chess master Jude Acers playing lots of people at the same time. Got the event listed in Guiness Book of World Records.

  4. Reminds me of this incredible TV show. But I vote for a big co-housing community!

  5. A combination of a Major League Baseball stadium, entertainment/concert venues and thousands of new housing units would be great for the area and all Portlabd.

  6. Maybe the City can harness this behemoth of a building and use it to provide the long promised affordable housing that we've heard about for so long. Clearly the City's present tact of demolishing middle income single-family housing and replacing it with often vacant luxury apartments is not working.

  7. Nice post and thought provking. But it would be a miserable place to live. The basement level is surrounded by the parking garage. The second floor spaces are way too deep for residential use. The footprint of the garages and mall would make any residential reuse impractical and not put the property to its best use.

    Due to the size of the lot, I'd like to see something special and unique go in. We are no where close to running out of land. There are better places to put the Five over one special apartment buildings with overpriced specialty retail and restaurants. It would work for as a replacement for Providence Park. It would be a great spot for an urban Costco like they have in Vancouver BC. It could be a Costco and Home Depot topped by apartment towers. Let's something different here.

    1. I have been researching the social history of swimming pools since the 2014 CDC report on racial disparity of drownings and as Lloyd Center is part of the Portland Skyline, realize that it is in an ideal place to establish a museum to educate about systemic racism, merits of swimming and recreation. Swimming is unlike any other sport; it is a life saving skill and it used to be as popular as going to the movies, until mandatory integration in the 1950s. It is a class issue that excludes people from access, but it plays out racially. Swimming pools were also where our society originally began to focus on body image, due to the attire worn at the pool.

  8. As Oaks Park is far away and difficult to get to, I would love it if a big enough section was turned into a roller skating rink. That specific exercise option would do me a world of good.

  9. Any redevelopment should start by re-orienting towards Holladay Park. Setting the mall up with parking garages facing this little urban gem has really made both mall and park suffer.

    Given the proximity to Irvington and other expensive neighborhoods, seems like they could also re-tool as more of a lifestyle mall, similar to U-Village in Seattle. Go back to more open air, higher end retailers and local eateries.

  10. Ballpark, indoor bar / foodcourt hall community center, market rate, 55 plus and affordable housing.

  11. With the development of high density housing in the core area, repurposing the businesses to cater to the surrounding residents, including those along the Max lines. Pet care,health care,small department store( like the mini Target on Powell), services and goods can still be easily accessed by most with a little time and effort. Focus on transit and walking/biking to allow best access would free up huge amounts of parking space to more realistic uses

  12. When will Lloyd center close its doors

  13. Just read where the former Hilltop Mall in Richmond, CA (very similar to Lloyd Center) has been purchased by a firm with a good track record, who intend to turn it into a "mixed use village" with housing, shopping and recreational uses.

  14. When I read about the current shortage of places for daycares - I couldn't help but think this could be a solution, at least temporarily.

  15. Tri-Met proposes a MAX subway route beneath NE Multnomah Blvd with a station at NE 9th Ave, the East portal somewhere on the Cinema parking lot. The Multnomah route may have been chosen solely to influence redevelopment of Lloyd Center. I'd guess the less expensive route is on NE Holliday. Retain Holliday Park and NE 7th Ave stations and locate the portal near NE 6th Ave. The Rose Quarter Arena station would be the same with either route - just east of the Yellow Line Station in the big lawn. Not sure about a Convention Center station, but the old motel on the SE corner of Holliday and MLK is an option.

    I also have doubts about the chosen MAX subway route through downtown. 6th Ave would be very disruptive to Pioneer Square and the entire length with the cut/cover tunnel alternative. I'm not sure twin tube tunnel between stations is suitable because of general soil instability and liquifaction in earthquake. The chosen station at Greyhound Depot immediately raised the allowed building heights in the Post Office redevelopment, from 30- to 40-stories east of Johnson and from 15- to 25-stories south of Johnson, IOW, a route chosen to affect apartment block rental property value. "The more the merrier" the Queen in the counting house squealed. The more ideal subway route downtown is along Naito Pkwy if possible; 'stacked' cut/cover, Saturday Mkt Station, first West Portland beneath the Morrison bridgehead. Second portal further south past Market Street for the Green Line to Milwaukie and Clackamas Towncenter. Third spur from Naito Pkwy west via Columbia, station between 5th/6th Aves and West portal near SW 16th and Jefferson as proposed.

  16. Lloyd Center situtated in close proximity to downtown is a great piece of the Portland Skyline. It ought to go on as an attraction and making it a History of Swimming Pools Museum to educate about systemic racism as well as provide recreation and drowning prevention for the masses could relight Portland to glory.