This October marks the 30th anniversary for one of Arizona’s most popular shopping centers — and one of the last enclosed malls built in the region.
Arrowhead Towne Center, 7700 W. Arrowhead Towne Center, opened in 1993 amid a growing northwest Valley that was still isolated from other parts of metro Phoenix with the completion of Loop 101 still several years away.
The mall, jointly developed by Westcor and General Growth Properties, had been anchored by department store names like Robinsons-May, Montgomery Ward, JCPenney and Dillard’s. The site also had more spaces available for future tenets such as Sears, which would open in 2002 and an AMC, Theatre which opened in 1996.
Currently owned by California-based Macerich & GIC Private Ltd, the mall has seen many changes both internally and in the industry of which it is part, and it still carries big retail names like Dillard’s, JCPenny, Macy’s and more.
Former Glendale Planning Director Jon Froke said he remembers working with the city to bring this mall to the Glendale. Froke had worked for the city dating back to 1986.
Now a self-described Glendale historian, Froke shared that the plans to being a mall to north Glendale had been in the work since the 1980s.
Westcor had been the main developer of malls across Arizona with the construction starting in the 1970s with the Metrocenter Mall, Foothills Mall and the Flagstaff Mall.
With the city developing the massive Arrowhead Ranch master-planned community, which would be made up of businesses and residential developments, it led Westor and the city seeing the need for a regional shopping destination to serve the growing population.
That’s when Westcor set it’s sights to develop along Bell Road as Loop 101 was being constructed and was planed to run near the planned site.
“I’m very proud of that as a city planner, to look back with very fond memories to work along with the city of Glendale as well as partners to help with Arrowhead Ranch and Towne Center,” Froke said.
Froke said he remembers vising the mall when it was first opened to the public. He said he would visit the mall for shopping for his kids and visiting the food court.
Over the past 30 years, the mall has changed with community growth. Where there was once a video game arcade there is now a retailer.
The city of Peoria, which borders Glendale along the mall, has certainly benefited from Arrowhead Towne Center with the growth of a wide variety of development that has fed the city’s coffers over the years.
Peoria’s Economic Development Director Jennifer Stein said the mall is still one of the busiest and most successful malls in the Valley.
When it first opened, the mall spurred commercial development by attracting a large number of shoppers and visitors to Peoria and Glendale, she said.
The growth in the area has helped pave the way for the ambitious live-work-play Stadium Point, planned to be located next to the Peoria Sports Complex.
Minimum development requirements for the $500 million project include at least 400,000 square feet of class A office, a full-service hotel with up to 200 keys, a 200-unit mid-rise apartment building, 30,000 square feet of signature retail, dining and entertainment, as well as an activity plaza of public open space.
“This increased traffic and demand in that area led to the establishment and success of businesses surrounding the mall, including the amazing restaurants and quality hotels located within P83,” Stein said. “The economic activity has boosted property values, and the continued investment from the development community will keep this area a regional shopping, dining and entertainment destination for generations to come.”
In 1996, Westcor was acquired by Macerich, which has continued to own the mall. With the acquisition, Macerich revamped the mall in 2003-04 and then again in 2015, according to Froke.
On 2011, General Growth sold its one-third stake in the mall with Macerich assuming full ownership. In 2016, Macerich sold 40% of the mall to GIC Private Ltd.
“I look back at 1993, it doesn’t seem like it was 30 years ago. I do drive by frequently and I look in the mall and think, ‘Hey, I had something to do with this.’ First as a young planner and then to planing director.” Froke said.
Retail shopping has changed significantly since Arrowhead first opened its doors. It was the second-to-last large, indoor regional shopping center built in the Valley, just ahead of Chandler Fashion Square.
At that time, malls were the place to shop. Now they are more often home to vacancies. A CapitalOne Shopping research report from this year found malls ran an 8.7% vacancy rate among retail properties, the highest amount compared with the likes of neighborhood centers, power centers and more.
Malls have been closing as well, with an average of 1,170 malls closing every year between 2017 and 2022, according to the CapitalOne report.
Froke said malls around the Valley are slowing showing signs of financial stress because of online retail competitions. Yet he’s seen Arrowhead in particular change to keep up with the times.
Being able to buy online and pick-up in-store, retailers have been trying to remain relevant to customers. As of 2023, the mall houses brands like Miniso, Levi’s, Lululemon Athletica, Torrid Curve, Urban Outfitters, Johnny Rockets, and a future Round 1.
It’s important to support local malls as the money spent at the site goes back into the local economy rather then never seeing it go back into your community, Froke said.
“Macerich has carried on the legacy of Westcor and their expansion dating back to the 1970s. The mall under the leadership, has had to adapt and its still a very viable property and valuable to the city of Glendale as it’s a revenue generator. It’s amazing that 30 years on, its still viable for shopping and entertainment. It had its ups and down like with the economy after 9/11 and most recently the pandemic, and it continues to evolve even in 2023,” Froke said.
ICSC, a global trade association for the marketplaces industry for shopping centers, shopping malls, and other retail estates, has seen plenty of change in the industry. The association is helping to promote and elevate malls like Arrowhead Towne Center as they recognize how important the site is for the community and local economy.
“It’s a misconception that e-commerce is taking significant market share from brick-and-mortar. In fact, online and in-store shopping are tightly intertwined, as demonstrated by our halo effect studies showing that brick-and-mortar stores have a considerable effect on retailers’ web traffic and online spending,” said Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of research and public relations for ICSC.
In today’s consumer world, retailers are having to adapt services like buy online pick up in-store and social commerce, Cegielski said.
Although some malls are experiencing declines in occupancy levels, most recently caused by the pandemic, some malls continue to thrive. Cegielski said those having issues mean it can be time to bring in different tenant types or to redevelop.
“There are several retail categories that are currently gaining popularity. Fitness is top-of-mind for consumers, whether in the form of traditional gyms or trendy pickleball courts. Similarly, health and wellness is a priority, with health clinics and therapy offices gaining traction. Entertainment operators, like go-karting, trampoline parks, virtual reality, and arcades, also offer consumers an exciting experience. Finally, quick-service restaurants and specialty sweets stores are seeing success at open-air centers, offering consumers the option to snack on-the-go or have a quick bite to eat while shopping with friends,” Cegielski said,
Passing more than three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cegielski said social spaces are still needed as people want to continue socializing, and that community gathering aspect is still very much at play among shopping centers.
Spaces like Arrowhead can create memories for those who are young and wanting to hangout with friends or even those older who are looking for a space away of work and home, Cegielski said.
“Today, consumers crave connection more than ever and shopping malls are foundational to fostering a sense of community. Beyond this, they also play a vital role in driving local economies, offering a myriad of benefits like local employment opportunities, sales tax revenue, and more,” Cegielski said.
News Editor Philip Haldiman contributed to this report.