Burnsville Center is at a crossroads, experts say, and the time is now to show retailers that the mall’s heyday might actually be on the horizon.

The center was the crown jewel of retail in the south metro for decades after its grand opening in 1977. In recent years, vast, empty parking lots, liquidation sales and the closing of the anchor tenant, Sears, have punctured that reputation. However, the mall’s Macy’s and JCPenney anchor stores have survived bouts of store closures nationwide.

Burnsville city officials could finalize a master plan as soon as next month that will set the stage for redevelopment and transformation at the retail hub.

At a public open house earlier this month, representatives from Minneapolis-based landscape architecture firm Damon Farber presented what the future might hold for Burnsville Center and the surrounding retail area on Country Road 42.

“If they can redevelop Sears right, they can help a lot of other big box retailers that are going through similar struggles,” said Damon Farber President Thomas Whitlock. “The challenge for them is they have 200 sites around the country — what’s going to make this site rise to the top for them and what does the partnership with the city look like.”

CBL Properties, Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney are all owners of Burnsville Center, and one of the city’s challenges and hopes will be to unite the retailers around the redevelopment vision. Jenni Faulkner, Burnsville’s community development director, said the plan is about “setting the table” for redevelopment and showing a commitment to revitalizing the area.

“There has to be an experience here that’s going to draw people to Burnsville Center that’s not just shopping,” Whitlock said.

Mixing it up

Creating opportunity for a mix of land uses — such as housing, hotels, restaurants, offices and more — is a guiding principal for the project, said landscape architect Bob Close.

Close said that retailers such as Target are looking to downsize their large-footprint stores. As consumers shift more towards online shopping, they also desire more of a neighborhood feel and walkable shopping experience. He said the boutique-sized Dinkytown Target store is an example of where big-box retail might be heading.

To prepare for this shift, concept designs include breaking up the retail area north of Country Road 42 in blocks, similar to the design of Burnsville’s Heart of the City area.

The concepts include connecting Burnsville Center to the north side of Country Road 42 by elevating the road with a bridge and allowing for cars, bikes and pedestrian to pass to retail areas underneath. The designs would allow visitors to park once to experience everything in the area, similar to a downtown.

“It’s not getting rid of cars, but it’s calming cars and giving people a comfortable place to be,” Close said.

Close said it’s also a way of creating a true community that’s active all the time.

Designs for Center Village, as the proposed development has been named, also aim to connect different cultures in the community. Those ideas include free outdoor venues and an indoor-outdoor food hall with a range of small vendors.

“It’s an international population, but there’s these layers that don’t mix very often,” said Damon Farber Associate Andrew Montgomery.

Montgomery said externalizing the mall’s attractions with outdoor-entrance restaurant and entertainment options is an important aspect to strengthening the existing mall.

The transition was a success for Rosedale Center when they moved their food court out of the mall’s rotunda and to the exterior of the mall. Recently, that mall underwent an $80 million renovation and introduced a new anchor store. Through the open house, several other examples were given of Minnesota malls acting fast to revamp the shopping experience.

At the open house, residents were curious about the number of future residents that could move into the proposed apartments and condos. According to Witlock, the city is looking to change the zoning to mixed-use to allow for housing options, but the density would depend on the market and interest of developers. At this time, he said, a ballpark estimate of new housing units isn’t known.

Concept art featuring various amenities was displayed on easels for community members to weigh in on. Green stickers indicated that a resident liked the idea and red indicated they didn’t like it. Seasonal markets, flexible green spaces and ice skating received all green stickers from residents examining the displays.

“It’s obvious to us that, whether we are talking to residents or employers or property owners around this district, that everyone wants this to be a success,” Whitlock said.

The finalized plan will go before the Burnsville City Council at a worksession on Dec. 11. They hope to vote on adopting the plan at a city council meeting soon after.

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