Community members shared ideas for possible future uses of the Imperial Mall and surrounding area Wednesday during a public meeting at The Lark.
Initial ideas included turning the mall into a residential living spaces, a hub for businesses to access the airport, a physical fitness facility and more.
Matt Ashby with Ayres Associates facilitated the discussion, leading off with information about trends in malls across the nation.
Ashby said the state the retail industry has been changing since the mid 2000s due to the rise in e-commerce and aof national recession. Shopping online has become increasingly popular, leading to a drop in sales at traditional retail outlets.
He said between 2010 and 2013, mall visits during the holiday season dropped by 50 percent. Within the next five years, he anticipates about one quarter of the remaining malls could close their doors.
Many malls have sat vacant and deteriorating for years before anything is done with them. Ashby said thinking about the future of the area before it is closed puts Hastings ahead of the curve. Instead of rehabilitating a collapsing building, efforts can be focused on repurposing.
“You are in good shape getting started early in this process,” he said.
The malls that are being built are focusing on more activities than shopping. Ashby said malls are more focused on entertainment, leaving shopping as a secondary purpose.
He also shared ideas of what other communities have done with large former retail spaces, such as centers for various activities, child care, residential, performing and visual arts, education facilities, city offices, data centers, public works buildings, health care facilities and workspace for various crafts.
Babz Moffatt of Hastings said the meeting helped serve as an ice breaker for various populations of the community.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “It’s nice they used an outside company so that everybody gets to brainstorm.”
The meeting was the first of two days of meetings and workshops to discuss possible uses for the mall and development around the area and Hastings Municipal Airport. The Community Redevelopment Authority sponsored the cost of the workshops, conducted by Ayres Associates of Waukesha, Wis.
Roger Coffman, a member of the CRA, said the group wanted to start considering the potential problem before the mall was closed.
“We’re gleaning ideas from the community to see where they might go,” he said.
The discussions from the meeting will continue Thursday.
Ideas from Wednesday’s meeting will be consolidated and discussed further during listening sessions on Thursday each hour from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Chamber Development Center, 301 S. Burlington Ave. A wrap-up meeting will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hastings Airport terminal building, 3300 W. 12th St.
By the end of the process, Ashby hopes to be able to identify a couple possibilities to explore as a community.
“We want to zero in on a couple ideas to explore,” he said. “You can either let the future happen to you or take the bull by the horns and have a part in shaping that.”