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Could Cortana Mall find new life as a mixed-use development?

Converting malls—like Cortana in north Baton Rouge—to mixed-use mini villages may be the key to using unoccupied real estate in the retail sector, experts tell CNBC.

Retailers like Sam’s Club and Best Buy have announced closures this year, leaving uncertain the fate of many malls across the nation as landlords scramble for tenants.

Meanwhile, struggling department stores like Sears, JCPenney and Macy’s have closed their locations at Cortana, leaving most of the mall’s anchor spaces empty. One Baton Rouge developer has suggested bulldozing the decaying mall and building a soccer stadium at the site. Local architect Buddy Ragland says the site is a perfect compromise location for a new Baton Rouge zoo.  

But Amanda Nicholson, a professor of retail practice at Syracuse University, suggests integrating apartments, health clubs, grocery stores and upscale restaurants to revitalize malls and create new experiences for consumers.

“We don’t need all the mall space we have just for shopping,” Nicholson says. “You’d have a place to live with a place to shop, with a place to work out, with a place to maybe go to a luxury movie theater and have dinner.”

Stephen Sadove, former Saks chairman and chief executive officer, agrees, though he notes location is the key to creating mixed-use centers.

Some malls, he says, just need to be torn down.

“If it’s a big mall, and it’s in an interesting area, build a Topgolf,” Sadove says. “People are dying to play golf at one of these things.”

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