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Trying to rebound, Wisconsin malls add new features

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Some urban and suburban malls are being revived through redevelopment work adding various features, but that tack might not succeed in smaller Wisconsin markets where distressed malls are having a hard time coming back to life.

Brookfield Square in suburban Milwaukee will have a movie-theater tavern and Whirlyball game venue by the end of the year, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The shopping center has struggled since the anchor stores Sears and Boston Store left in 2018.

“Consumers are starting to look for more entertainment and experience focused retail,” said Stacey Keating, a spokeswoman for Chattanooga, Tennessee-based CBL Properties, which owns Brookfield Square.

Urban and suburban malls will most likely rebound, whereas rural malls continue to struggle, said Garrick Brown, a national retail researcher at Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate services company. Adding housing or medical centers may help make various retail sites.

Brookfield officials have long been looking for new uses for vacant space on the south side of Brookfield Square, a mall that has suffered for years both from competition from online retailers and new rivals like the nearby Corners of Brookfield shopping center. A big opportunity for redevelopment came with the demolition in June of Brookfield Square’s former Sears store. The new WhirlyBall venue will be among the replacement buildings. WhirlyBall is a game that’s often describe as a combination of bumper cars, lacrosse, hockey and basketball. Players, divided into two teams of five, drive bumper cars and use hand-held scoops to pass a softball-sized whiffle ball around and attempt to score by hitting a target. Beyond its two WhirlyBall “courts,” the new building will have eight regular bowling lanes, a four-lane bowling suite and a LaserTag arena. Guests will be able to enjoy food and drink at a 75-seat restaurant and bar with an outdoor patio and terrace. WhirlyBall now has three venues in the Chicago area and one in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Brookfield officials have long been looking for new uses for vacant space on the south side of Brookfield Square, trying to compete with online retailers and even new in-city rivals like the nearby Corners of Brookfield shopping center, is adding a new WhirlyBall venue. (Rendering courtesy of Brookfield Square)

“It really is how the rest of the world has done malls, mainly because their economies always have been a little bit iffy and you had to hedge your bet,” Brown said. “I think, going forward, that’s the safest bet.”

Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke said he would love to see the Wausau Center Mall turned into a mixed-use development with housing and office space in addition to retail stores. Plans to add a movie theater to the property fell through in 2017.

“It’s still a special building, but like so many other communities, we’re trying to find a way to repurpose it,” Mielke said. “Right now, it’s a wait and see as far as what the owners in Florida will be doing.”

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