While other indoor shopping centers long past their heyday fall into disuse due to changing consumer and retail habits, the Lloyd Center will become a lively mixed-use addition to the surrounding neighborhoods, its owners said.
“What we’re aiming to achieve is to reverse the inward-facing, auto-centric layout,” Krista Bailey, vice president for development at Urban Renaissance Group, told The Skanner. “We’re basically a fortress of parking garages right now.”
In place of a retail monolith, the next incarnation of the Lloyd Center is slated to offer residential and office space as well – and a connection to the surrounding areas.
“We’ll reintroduce portions of the Portland street grid, because there is no way to navigate through the site” currently, Bailey said. “We’ll reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods, because we know there are communities that are all sitting on the periphery that would love to have a little bit more of a connector.”
The planning team emphasizes that with the addition of homes – including some affordable housing – and workplaces, the Lloyd Center will see round-the-clock activity.
Amidst a severe housing shortage, a more efficiently planned Lloyd Center could provide relief.
“From a Portland zoning code perspective, this area allows for a certain amount of density,” Bailey said.
“The (site’s) 30 acres could actually have up to 10 million square feet of usable area. There’s a real interest from the city and the community to utilize density better and to continue to make sure that we’re repurposing our land area in a good way, in the highest best-use way.”
The Lloyd Center was opened in 1960, added a cover in 1990 and went into foreclosure in 2021 after the previous owners defaulted on their 2015 renovation loan. KKR Real Estate Finance Trust took ownership beginning in 2021. (The old Sears store, which was under different ownership from the rest of the mall, is also tentatively part of the conceptual plan.)
“Historically, malls in general have taken quite a beating in the way of economic success,” Bailey said. “So many of the large anchors have changed their business models, or ended their business models. Lloyd Center’s prior ownership was struggling financially and really weren’t able to come together on a next generation concept.”
As KKR began to conceptualize the Lloyd Center’s future, the Urban Renaissance Group (URG) commercial real estate agency has managed the mall and its more than 120 tenants. Local small businesses have moved in: The quasi-cabana entryway that was Hollister Clothing’s trademark facade, for example, now leads to vintage offerings from local retailer Bauhaus Mode.
“A lot of them have really created a community of using each other as catalysts, because they came in with their own little bit of a following and now they’ve found a community and have created an environment that people feel really good about being in,” Bailey said.
Elsewhere around the country, an eerie subgenre of photography has formed around documenting abandoned shopping malls as they are reclaimed by nature and the elements, decaying from disuse. But the Lloyd Center mall persists as a kind of artifact of public and commercial life in a bygone era – one that holds novelty for creatives looking to reimagine spaces.
In August, the Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative took over the former Victoria's Secret space to stage Samuel Beckett’s "Happy Days," an absurdist piece with a minimal set and only two characters. What was once a Spencer’s Gifts now houses the Halloween Cultural Preservation Museum, an exhibit of personal collections of vintage Halloween decor that charts the growth of the holiday in popular culture.
And in January, local artist Mike Bennett will set his next installation in the mall: A large-scale “national park” immersive experience, with his wood cutout cartoon characters populating an intricate forest setting.
“Because of some of the availability we do have, and because of the activator that the ice rink is, it has become a place where a lot of special events have happened,” Bailey said. “So there’s been theater, we’ve had a secret roller disco, we’ve had a number of community organizations that have held their fundraisers or their big annual events because we’ve got these big open spaces with plenty of parking, and they have an opportunity to feel safe within the environment here.”
The Lloyd Center has the advantage of being centrally located and surrounded by established neighborhoods. URG led community outreach and polling efforts, with residents of Northeast Portland over-represented in the groups surveyed. They have partnered with at least one consultant firm to make sure Black residents are engaged in the process.
“We were a little bit surprised that there was a sense of nostalgia for what Lloyd Center has been, but there was not necessarily nostalgia or connection or commitment to the mall itself,” Bailey said.
“Which for us was encouraging, because it means people are open to this being something different that thrives differently, that can exist differently.”
“But,” she added, “people do like the skating rink, so we have stayed true to that and intend to maintain that as a concept and a unique landmark within the site.”
Nolan Lienhart is a principal and director of planning and urban design at the architecture firm ZGF, which has been working with URG on the central city master plan application. He grew up in Northeast Portland, and his first job was at Camelot Music in the Lloyd Center.
“It’s interesting, there has not been a lot of precious commitment to the form of the Lloyd Center the way it is today,” he told The Skanner, adding that there seems to be broad community recognition that the mall in its current form “is probably not the future.”
Lienhart previously worked on Central City Master Plans for OMSI and for the Broadway Corridor.
“Really what the CCMP code requires is that you’re putting together a framework for streets, open spaces and potential building sites going forward,” he said. “The Lloyd Center is a very inwardly focused suburban retail center with parking on the outside, retail in the center, so it doesn’t do a great job of engaging its edges or surrounding neighborhoods.”
He added, “We received a lot of positive feedback from the design commission about the emphasis on open spaces as connective tissue within the site and to existing, nearby open spaces like Holladay Park.”
It is an approach that will allow for the development of the new Lloyd Center in phases, Bailey explained.
“It allows for us to create a master plan and go through a review process with it and get that master plan approved, so that it then can hold for decades essentially as the baseline plan,” Bailey said. “Then you can take it piece by piece and start developing the site. And you know what, generally, to expect.”
Under the master plan, developers must dedicate 20% of the site to usable and publicly accessible open space “that has some kind of logic and connection to it,” Bailey said. For the Lloyd Center, that comes out to about five blocks’ worth of area, in addition to the 12th Avenue Promenade, which will be a car-free connection across the site.
“With the open space we’re creating, we’re essentially creating a series of parks,” she said.
“The goal of the plan,” Lienhart said, “is for us to start to make (the site) more permeable, more accessible – to create connections to and from the existing edges.”