Just because you build it, doesn’t mean people will come. Or shop.

The latest nails in the coffin of Centre Square Mall were made public last week (“Councillor calls for change at mall,” Jan. 19), with retailers Bootlegger and The Source by Circuit City announcing they were leaving the beleaguered downtown mall.

L’atitudes restaurant in Centre Square Mall closed its doors to the general public last November. It’s now only open for Quality Inn guests, and for continental breakfasts only.

These closures added some pretty thick brush strokes to what has long been a pretty bleak picture of what was supposed to be a vibrant, full-service downtown shopping centre catering to residents of nearby apartments and condos, tourists in the adjacent hotel and suburban shoppers looking for a nice stroll out of the winter cold.

Much has been said about public intoxication and loitering driving away customers. But Centre Square Mall has also fallen victim to the same disastrous development timing that struck many similar projects across North America starting in the mid-1990s. Instead of revitalizing city downtowns, these malls — mostly hidden from street view — now sit as silent witnesses to poor planning.

Just as places such as Centre Square Mall were being built, retailers – and their customers – were moving to the suburbs where there were no parking or social problems that downtown locations experienced. The evidence of this locally can be observed on Old Airport Road with its mini-malls and big box stores.

And with the face of retail changing worldwide as online shopping takes hold, reliance on chain stores to fill commercial space will be challenging — for any area of the city.

Deputy mayor Adrian Bell is calling for a major re-purposing of Centre Square.

“They will never attract the customers any more,” said Bell, a commercial real-estate broker who leased space in the mall for 13 years. “There is no hope right now that they will fill the vacant spots.”

Bell is planning a motion for city council to invite both REIT’s – the out-of-town real estate companies which own the two sections of Centre Square Mall – to Yellowknife and hash out an agreement.

So what’s to be done with the immense downtown enclosed space, the largest mall downtown?

City council has studied downtown woes for years to no avail. Last year it commissioned a fun little contest offering a year’s rent to one lucky business in hopes that it would help revitalize the downtown core.

The winner, Seiji Suziki, aims to use his prize to open a Japanese-style bakery in Centre Square. It’s an interesting idea and we wish for its success but the city and mall owners have a long way to go to revitalize this particular corner of the city.

If the city was truly serious about downtown revitalization it would be the first to step up to the plate and actually do something with the 50/50 lot it purchased next door and the three others across the street from the mall instead of letting them sit fallow as they do now.

Council directed administration to develop a three-year action plan last fall but residents are right to be skeptical.

Mayor Mark Heyck himself complained to council in 2016 about the lack of action on the 50/50 lot the city purchased for $1.45 million two years earlier – but here we are.

Yellowknifer has long called for the construction of a Dene cultural centre on this property, a concept that is bound to be a tourism draw and would help bring customers inside the mall. The mall owners would have to be on board, and therefore the need for Bell’s discussion with the two mall owners.

But the city must lead the way. Otherwise, it will remain the owner of four vacant lots at the very heart of the city and the mall – a warm but otherwise useless corridor for people to walk through on their way to Tim Hortons.

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