Jeramey Jannene

Gardens for Grand Avenue Mall?

By - Mar 27th, 2010 02:46 pm
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A view of the atrium that runs the length of Cleveland's the Galleria at Erieview.

A view of the atrium that runs the length of Cleveland’s the Galleria at Erieview.

Could indoor gardens be in store for The Shops of Grand Avenue future? It could happen if the mall follows in the steps of a similar mall in downtown Cleveland, the Galleria at Erieview.

The Galleria at Erieview implemented an indoor garden, dubbed Gardens Under Glass, complete with a hydroponic system in empty space in the urban mall’s atrium. Fueled by natural light, mall marketing director Vicky Poole and Artist Review Today manager Jack Hamilton (a mall tenant) have created a greenhouse thanks to a $30,000 grant from Cleveland’s Civic Innovation Lab. The pair see it as a catalyst for the mall, hoping to attract those interested in learning more and consuming the products of the gardens and other sustainable stores.

How could this idea be implemented at Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee? The Plankinton Arcade portion of the mall appears to have the highest retail vacancy rate and operates right now largely as a pass-through area along the skywalk system between the East Town office tours and the food court. It also features an atrium the length of the property that exposes two stories to sunlight. The opportunity cost of utilizing that space certainly seems low at this point. Making the largely vacant Plankinton Arcade more attractive through the installation of garden beds also might serve to encourage more traffic to the mall’s existing businesses.

A trial on a scale this small ($30,000) appears to be a no-brainer for Grand Avenue owner’s Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp, especially compared to past suggestions of ours.


17 thoughts on “Gardens for Grand Avenue Mall?”

  1. Barry Stuart says:

    Does Ashkenazi Acquisitions know Milwaukee? From what I’ve seen of The Shops of Grand Avenue, they apparently don’t. They need to get to know Milwaukee well enough to lure customers downtown once again. Merchants must offer quality products, competent service, and competitive prices. Even Walmart often has better service, and nobody competes with Walmart on price. The management of The Shops of Grand Avenue need to get to know Milwaukee customers in order to be successful.

  2. Aaron says:

    I have always thought the glass atrium should be raised to the top of the Plankinton Arcade, similar to the Federal Courthouse. Not sure if Ashkenazi owns the whole building or just leases the current floors.

  3. SS says:

    And why would putting a garden in Grand Ave make me want to shop there?

    > Making the largely vacant Plankinton Arcade more attractive through the installation of garden beds also might serve to encourage more traffic to the mall’s existing businesses.

    Why does everyone try to invent some stupid gimmick instead of addressing the problems of why people don’t shop at Grand Ave anymore?

    For starters, Grand Ave should be massively downsized. Maybe this isn’t obvious, but niche retailing has been declining for a decade now and will continue because of internet retailing. This is a problem at all malls. Southridge has it’s share of vacancies as well.

  4. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @SS – Check out our past article on the issue.

    We argue for rebuilding around the street and reducing the overall amount of retail space, which I think is somewhat along the lines of what you’re suggesting. Those suggestions/ideas are rather expensive though, and there are a variety of reasons while rebuilding the mall isn’t likely.

    I’m not sure if you work/live downtown now, but for those that do and occasionally go to a store or the food court making the mall marginally more attractive via filling empty space with greenery might be a welcome improvement. It’s not expensive, and it might encourage just a bit more foot attractive especially out of East Town (where to get to the part of the mall that is active one has to walk through a lot of empty stalls first).

    Vacancies certainly are a problem, this might be a way to deal with one or two of them.

  5. SS says:

    I still don’t understand, how does more plants = more foot traffic? I realize it’s not expensive, that doesn’t mean it makes sense.

    How about the mall opens up the vacant space for local artists to display their work, for free or very cheap? At least then it doesn’t cost anything and it’s maintenance free.

  6. Jeramey Jannene says:


    At the most primitive level, the thought was it would make the mall marginally more attractive so that when person X is deciding between where to walk for lunch downtown Grand Ave would seem slightly more attractive. They wouldn’t choose Grand Ave all the time, but they might pick it every now and then.

    If you spent more money to make it more of an operation, you would probably get people to see it every now and then. You would likely not get someone from outside of downtown, but I think you would stand a fair chance of drawing in people that are already downtown.

    I agree with the local art idea as well, we’ve written articles about it’s potential application underneath 794 in the past.

  7. Jeff says:

    Put in good stores, including national chains that don’t have other locations here, and people will come. Stop catering to the poor who, unfortunately, keep everyone else away; most people who live downtown or close by bypass Grand Avenue and shop at suburban malls. That said, it may also be time to think about closing the mall and reverting the interior space to the individual buildings. With a few exceptions, downtown malls have failed from coast to coast.

  8. Dave Steele says:

    The best option for the Grand Mall at this point might be a complete “reboot” of the mall. Raze anything that was built new in 1982, restore the existing pre-1982 buildings into offices and mixed use on the upper floors, street front retail on the ground floor. Allow Third Street to once again connect Michigan Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Existing tenants would be relocated to storefront spaces on Wisconsin Avenue, Plankinton and Second and Third Street. In this sense the Grand would no longer be an enclosed mall, but rather an urban shopping district with strorefront spaces and a stand-alone Boston Store.

    There is a precedence for this in Milwaukee: Bayshore. An outdated retail model was completely rebuilt and has seen a high degree of success.

    It would be the most expensive, highest risk option for renewing the mall, but I would argue that one that would hold the highest potential reward.

  9. I think a lot of commentary misses the point on this idea. I would return to shop at Grand Avenue FOR THE FOOD. Not to walk past the green while I look for some other goods or services. So, make the food the store. The Grand Avenue Greenhouses and Grocery Store. We need fresh local food options year-round. Urban agriculture. This is a growing market that is untapped in downtown Milwaukee. I LOVE IT!

  10. I would come for the TREES and the BEES. Also CHICKENS.

    The mall needs and indoor FARM and outside the curb could be repurposed for gardens. Also the exterior walls and roof.

    I understand the Alders Donovon and Davis are the main holdouts against such progressive possibilities. We need to find a way to make it cooler to them, and their respective cultures. For example, there are many unionized organic farms and natural goods factories. Many firemen, police, and AFSCME members use these, such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. Pure Castile Soap is the only way to go after a long days work in public sanitation. I think there is also a Dr. Bronner pomade product.

    Let’s make it happen people! A greener Milwaukee, with more buzzing and clucking.

  11. SS says:


    I’m worried you’re actually being serious.

  12. SS says:

    Though it is April 1st

  13. Cory Triolo says:

    As a former Grand Avenue retailer from back in the mall’s glory days, I agree with SS. If you go to you will find numerous comments and suggestions regarding Grand Avenue. I posted under CoryTJ there. In one post I listed the hundreds of retailers that have come and gone over the past decades. I think the lower level of Grand Ave should be converted to a satellite police annex, which would establish a police “presence” at the mall and perhaps aid in changing the perception of the mall as unsafe. But make no mistake: this mall needs to be de-malled. And by that I do NOT mean converted to a lifestyle center like Bayshore.

    Let’s face one fact: Ashkenazy hasn’t sunk dime one into this mall and they NEVER will. They bought this albatross from NML and Weenergies after they did the “faux” remodel and implemented this dismal failure in the “big box” concept. Fortunately for NML they dumped it on Ashkenazy before it unraveled AGAIN. The result is a mall stripped of any originality, that is generic, ugly, and even more dated than before the remodel. When the big box strategy failed, it left behind an even more pathetic footprint, because escalators were removed, and the ability to cross 2nd street and enter the mall on the other side was severed by the renovation. It looks ridiculous, with the entire second floor encased in plexiglass! An aesthetic nightmare! Furthermore, the space left behind by Linens N’ Things is cavernous and for to expensive to renovate. And that’s overllooking the fact that the space is just so impractical. Who would want to roll the dice on a guaranteed failure? Ashkenazy was duped by this “pump and dump”, and their arrogance is an insurmountable obstacle in moving forward with any type of resurgence for this dead mall.

    I agree with opening up 3rd street again. Any urban mall that has blocked the center of their downtown by closing off a major street has been poorly received. Check out Appleton’s downtown mall. Doomed from day one.

    The answer for Grand Avenue isn’t becoming one of the new “lifestyle” centers either. Let’s see how these lifestyle centers do in a few years. We live in a climate that is cold during a great portion of the year. A fake city is novel, but it will probably not serve the needs of the community in the long haul. The stores in these centers are very homogenous; if you’ve visited one mall in the city, you’ve visited them all. A Bath & Body Works in every mall? Geez, how many bottles of peppermint foot lotion does one person need in his lifetime? Opening up the streets again might allow the recreation of a genuine downtown setting. Specialty retailers like Daly’s Pen Shop seem to thrive in these settings, because they are truly destinations not reflective of the cookie cutter mall concept.

    Parking is also an issue with our downtown. Relocate the parking structures to the land on the south side of Michigan St., and make the structures much larger. We need to utilize vertical space more effectively; that is, build ’em tall. Level the current parking structures at Grand Avenue and redevelop the land once third street has been reopened.

  14. Frank Wise says:

    Whoever is running Grand Avenue Mall is making huge mistakes and definitely I do not see any reinvestment done since they removed the elevators, which was a very bad idea in my opinion because that alienated the handicapped and elderly shoppers. In turn, poor inner city youth started to visit the mall and scared away viable customers. There are dozens of African Americans and homeless pan-handling outside the mall at the main entrance and Security and even the Police let the pan-handlers continue to hassle customers entering and exiting the mall.

    Grand Avenue needs to lower their lease rates and actively try to get major retailers back into the mall. Security needs to be more proactive in getting rid of hostile youth and solicitors at the entrance.

    Maybe bring back the elevators and put in a movie theater, even add some fine dining restaurants perhaps? I don’t know but you can’t blame the economy for all the mismanagement and lack of security the mall has encountered within the last 5 years.

  15. Jeramey Jannene says:


    What exactly is the problem with African Americans?

  16. cammie says:

    they need to realize that the mall is closer to urban area….and they need more of the new junior cheaper and trendy apparrel stores back downtown. I guarantee you if the grand avenue will put, WETSEAL, FOREVER 21, CHARLOTTE RUSSE, ABERCROMBIE, AND VICTORIAS SECRET AND BATH AND BODY WORKS their facility. they would see an huge increase in sales. These are what will attract the teens and the young women….to the mall. its closer to the milwaukee citizens to go downtown and it is on a busline. and young people love going out to eat after shopping. they still have an applebees in the mall which is perfect. listen to my advice and this mall would be packed in no time.

  17. Tim says:

    I know my idea wouldn’t be cheap but I always thought that with the glass roof in the Grand you could create an open-air or retractable roof. I use to live in San Diego which is full of open air malls. I know we don’t have the climate of Southern California, but that’s where the retractable roof idea comes into play. The Grand Avenue is such a beautiful property, you hate to see the vacancies develop the way they have. I also believe that moving the bus line would help out a great deal. There are too many kids that just lounge around the mall with no intention to buy anything. Finally, hire a security staff that cares(similar to Mayfairs approach to security).

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