With Concord Mall Struggling, the Pike Needs an Intervention

Driving north on Route 1 towards 1-476, the Granite Run Mall is a pile of rubble – and that’s a good thing. Its property owners are reconfiguring the space for apartments, a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia clinic, retail shops, restaurants, and – upscale bowling. It’s been called the “future template for repositioning outdated malls.” More here.

Why can’t we do this in New Castle County, especially on Route 202?

Perhaps you are wondering why you should care. If you pay property taxes on your home and/or have a child in a county public school, you should care a lot. Empty stores equal lower property tax revenues (which primarily fund education), and somebody has to make up the difference. That somebody would be a homeowner.

Imagine a drive down Route 202. Block after block, there’s a hodgepodge of freestanding units, strip malls (some old, some newer, some small, some large), fast-food outlets, diners, funeral homes, a few office buildings, the Concord Mall, and the Brandywine Town Center. Plus there are acres of empty blacktop.

What’s missing? A 21st century approach to retailing: higher density residential units located next to, and/or above the shops, restaurants, and entertainment, with garage parking, not space-wasting blacktop.

In other words, every square foot of the parcel of land is used to maximize a return-on-investment for the owner, and the county enjoys increased property tax revenues without having to raise rates.

Noodles, which faced Concord Pike, closed earlier this year and remains vacant

Now consider the plight of the Concord Mall. Unlike its upscale cousin, the Christiana Mall (with its perpetually crowded Apple store), the Concord Mall might rate as a class-C regional mall. Like Granite Run, these are the malls that online retailers hurt the most.

Whenever I visit the Concord Mall, I see yet another small store closing and wonder if the mall is profitable. The anchor stores remain, but with so many shops closing, and acres of empty blacktop, I have no doubt that, for New Castle County, the property is a revenue-loser. And yes, the owner has to pay property tax on the blacktop acreage.

A repurposed Concord Mall would be roofless (yes, the shops would have their own roofs), with midrise apartments, stores, restaurants, entertainment, plus attractive green space (with cars in a garage). To maximize space usage, some apartments would be situated above shops. It would be a destination, not just a tired mall where one zips in and out after buying socks.

Chick-Fil-A remains popular at the Concord Mall

On the other side of Naaman’s Road to the north, the Brandywine Town Center also would benefit from having apartments located on the property and a more updated look (how about a Starbucks?). The Center has loads of blacktop space near the theater.   If a garage were built instead, there would be room for apartments. Additionally, the retail space vacated by now-bankrupt HH Gregg needs a 21st century tenant. Why not a major service-oriented tenant, similar to Granite Run’s future CHOP clinic?

The New Castle County Board needs to roll up its sleeves, engage with property owners and get involved in improving land use throughout the county. Decades of slipshod land use planning have resulted in shrinking property tax revenues. In my opinion, it’s ridiculous that a high-traffic and high-income thoroughfare such as Route 202 is home to a ‘dead mall’, aging strip malls, crematories, burger joints, etc., when it could be an engine for county growth.

The alternative? State Representative Earl Jacques of Glasgow wants automatic increases in property taxes – without a referendum. Raise taxes and shut out the voters: brilliant!

The better answer is to update the county’s commercial properties for a new generation of shoppers, workers, and families. The payoff will be more employment plus a solution to the property tax revenue shortfall.

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About the Contributor

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler of Wilmington is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional staff member of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

4 Comments

  • Joanne Butler is 110% correct! There’s movement afoot in some quarters to reenvision Concord Pike. However, it will take all hands on deck to think creatively and despense with development notions of the past 60 years. Current land use and transportation regulations will be a stumbling block, so too is the ever present potential for NIMBY-ism. Concord Plaza’s current partial redevelopment is the first foray into the wholesale change that is needed.

  • Growing up in N Wilmington, I have seen a lot of changes since I was a kid in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I moved up to West Chester 5 years ago and work in New Castle with a construction company that has done some of the projects along Concord Pike and have been some major changes along my work route as well especially in PA. Such as Wegmans and others in that center as well as the proposed Ridge Road expansion and retail development next to Concordville Nissan. I go by Granite Run on 352 every so often and often say how Concord Mall would look great with that type of improvement. Personally I think there is too much expansion and how Wilmington U building at Naamans and Concord Pike got their development approved through DelDot is amazing.

  • You’re not wrong, but somewhat over simplifying the solution and over projecting the expected success. The solution isn’t always “if you build it they will come”. So much of Wilmington already faces that problem. The deeper root causes are too much to dive into on a comment but having some positive suggestions and getting people excited about the possibility of a newer concord pike is fun to fantasize about. It may though, detract from common people (non gov./politically engaged people) from understanding how they can help a situation, get involved in their community, and make better choices in conjunction with better development and real estate strategies mentioned in the article.

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