Steeplegate Mall in Concord, NH: Redefining Space for the Next Generation

The Origins and Evolution of Steeplegate Mall

Steeplegate Mall, located in Concord, New Hampshire, opened its doors on August 1, 1990. Developed by Homart Development Company, this mall originally aimed to be a major retail hub in the region. It featured four anchor stores: JCPenney, Sears, Sage-Allen, and Steinbach, each a giant in the retail industry at the time.

As malls often anchor themselves in the communities they serve, Steeplegate became a central shopping destination in Concord. I find that malls like Steeplegate usually reflect broader economic trends.

By the mid-1990s, the retail landscape began shifting. The first sign of change at Steeplegate came when Sage-Allen closed in Fall 1992, leaving a significant vacancy for almost seven years.

This space became The Bon-Ton in 1999, temporarily reinvigorating the mall’s atmosphere. Steinbach closed in 1999 due to the company’s bankruptcy, indicating early signs of the challenges ahead.

Steeplegate experienced multiple ownership changes throughout its operation, each trying to adapt to the evolving consumer behavior and economic conditions. Often, a shift in management was part of a larger strategy to offload underperforming properties.

Steeplegate Mall

Reflecting on Steeplegate’s history reveals much about the economic and social shifts that affect such large retail spaces.

It is a case study of how traditional malls have struggled to maintain relevance amid changing consumer preferences and economic pressures.

This mall’s journey from a bustling retail center to a site with high vacancy rates showcases the retail sector’s broader challenges.

When you explore things to do in Concord, New Hampshire, understanding the rise and fall of places like Steeplegate Mall adds depth to the city’s commercial and social history.

The Steeplegate Mall’s Decline

The decline of Steeplegate Mall in Concord, NH, began gaining momentum in 2011 when General Growth Properties transferred ownership to its Rouse Properties subsidiary, along with 29 other underperforming malls.

The transfer marked the beginning of Steeplegate’s financial difficulties. By August 2014, Rouse Properties defaulted on its loan, signaling severe economic distress.

By April 2015, property ownership had been transferred to lenders, including Wells Fargo Bank and Midland Loan Servicing, with Colliers International managing the property.

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The impact of these financial and managerial shifts became visible in the mall’s tenant composition. In January 2015, Old Navy, one of the four main anchor stores, shut down.

This departure was a significant blow, as anchor stores typically drive foot traffic that benefits smaller retailers. The closure highlighted the mall’s declining appeal to both shoppers and tenants.

The pattern of decline continued when Namdar Realty Group, based in New York, purchased Steeplegate Mall for $10.4 million in May 2016.

Despite the change in ownership, the mall’s fortunes failed to turn around. In April 2018, Bon-Ton closed its stores at the mall as part of a nationwide reduction, leaving even more vacant space.

Later that year, the space briefly found new life when the Capital City Charter School moved into the former Bon-Ton store, but this was short-lived as the school closed and filed for bankruptcy in 2021.

Another long-term tenant, True Confections Candies & Gifts, vacated the mall in 2019, citing declining foot traffic and high rent costs that the mall’s owners refused to adjust. This move underscored the decreasing viability of the mall as a business location.

The final blow came on February 6, 2020, when Sears, another anchor store, closed as part of a broader corporate downsizing, leaving JCPenney as the sole traditional anchor.

The vacated Sears store was later used as a state vaccination site during the COVID-19 pandemic, marking a shift from retail to community service use.

This series of events clearly shows the mall’s steady decline, reflecting broader challenges in the retail industry and specific mismanagement issues at Steeplegate Mall.

Steeplegate’s Non-Traditional Tenants

In my analysis of Steeplegate Mall’s evolving landscape, the shift towards non-traditional tenants stands out as a significant change in strategy.

By 2016, as traditional retail stores continued to close, the mall welcomed the Hatbox Theatre, a live theater venue that took over spaces formerly occupied by Coldwater Creek and RadioShack.

This venue introduced a cultural element to the mall, aiming to draw different crowds seeking entertainment rather than traditional shopping.

Following this, 2018 marked the opening of Altitude Trampoline Park within the space vacated by Circuit City.

This park, alongside The Zoo Health Club that opened in 2019 in the former Bon-Ton, highlighted a trend towards experience-based businesses.

These businesses cater to families and fitness enthusiasts, starkly contrasting the mall’s original retail-focused offerings.

Adding these non-traditional tenants reflects an attempt to inject new life into the spaces left empty by retailers.

While such moves have brought a new type of visitor to the mall, they also signify a shift in the role of malls from shopping centers to community hubs with varied services and attractions.

This evolution suggests a potential pathway for other malls facing similar challenges, pivoting from traditional retail to a broader entertainment and lifestyle focus.

The Closure and the Remaining Tenants

The significant moment for Steeplegate Mall came in April 2022 when the mall’s interior closed, affecting all businesses that did not have exterior entrances.

This drastic measure left only a few businesses operational, each with its exterior entrance, thereby maintaining a semblance of activity within the mall’s large footprint.

In 2023, new owners proposed demolishing most of the mall and an adjacent movie theater to construct a large mixed-use development featuring apartments and retail spaces.

By January 2024, all businesses except JCPenney, the health club, and the trampoline park had been evicted to make way for the redevelopment project, as these three held long-term leases.

Steeplegate Mall
JCPenney (Steeplegate Mall)” by jjbers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These businesses adapted to the new mall dynamics by leveraging their unique offerings.

JCPenney, for instance, capitalized on its long-standing brand loyalty among local shoppers, while The Zoo Health Club and Altitude Trampoline Park attracted a demographic interested in health and recreational activities.

This shift underscores a crucial adaptation strategy for surviving businesses in increasingly deserted malls.

The Future Redevelopment Plans

In my view, Steeplegate Mall’s future represents a shift in how community spaces are envisioned.

In 2023, Onyx Partners Ltd. acquired the mall and announced plans to demolish most existing structures to make way for a mixed-use development.

The project includes 625 apartments and retail spaces, transitioning from traditional mall retail to residential and limited retail use.

The proposal, submitted to the city of Concord in September 2023, outlines the construction of five residential buildings, each four or five stories tall.

The plan cleverly integrates one- and two-bedroom units to attract diverse residents. A retail building, approximately 173,000 square feet, will replace the former main entrance and food court area.

This new structure will be about one-third the size of the current mall, focusing more on efficiency and modern needs than the sprawling spaces of the past.

Additional retail units are proposed to replace the Regal Cinema and other parts of the existing mall structure.

The plan maintains that most of the property will be developed into buildings and pavement, including hundreds of parking spaces to accommodate residents and shoppers.

This redevelopment transforms Steeplegate Mall from a traditional shopping mall to a residential and retail hub.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2024, and it promises to transform the current mall area into a bustling community.

This new development could catalyze economic growth and increase community engagement, offering a contemporary solution to the challenges faced by traditional malls.

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