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Will Phoenix’s Metrocenter Mall Become An Entertainment Hub?

Phoenix’s Metrocenter Mall will see new traffic this weekend. About a dozen food trucks will park just outside the food court. It’s part of a bigger plan to energize an iconic mall.

When New-York based Carlyle Development Group bought Metrocenter in 2012, the mall’s heyday had long passed. A couple years ago, the Phoenix City Council approved zoning changes to allow pretty much anything at Metrocenter. Initially, Carlyle thought the 128-acres off Interstate 17 at Dunlap Avenue would be good for a mix of housing, healthcare and offices. But lately the talk has been more about having fun.

Property manager Rachelle Strole thinks Metrocenter, which has a 12-screen Harkins Theatre, could become an entertainment and sports destination.

“We’re already spending the money going to these standalone places. Why not cluster them all together and make it just a great experience?” said Strole, owner of Phoenix-based Capital Asset Management.” “I envision it with all of the best uses when it comes to having fun with a family, all in one spot.”

She may have company. Recently, An out-of-state group bought the former J.C. Penney store with the intent of opening a storage business for cars, boats and RVs.

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“In the process of us going through that and it becoming public that it was under contract, we started getting calls from all these big entertainment users,” Strole said. “So we right now are doing some strong diligence on what makes the most sense there.”

Approximately 500,000 people live within a five-mile radius of the mall, which was built in 1973. With its location just off the freeway, acres of parking, and a light-rail hub planned, Strole said Metrocenter presents a unique opportunity.

“It’s got the population to support it, it’s got the economics to support it,” she said. “I think that all malls that are just dying in these neighborhoods have to have a strong look at what we’re doing. I’m hoping that we’re going to be the model that people look at and say, ‘Yes, we have a huge community, we need places for us all to go.’”

Like many people, Strole has fond memories of Metrocenter. Although she grew up in South Dakota, she recalls her parents taking her to the mall as a child when it featured an indoor ice skating rink.

“I called my friends that night and said, ‘I just went shopping, ate dinner and went ice skating and then went outside and laid by the pool. I think I just died and went to heaven’ and we all laughed,” she said. “And I would beg my parents to come to Phoenix so we could come to this mall.”

As she talks with potential tenants and buyers, Strole said she and Carlyle, continue to work with community groups and nonprofits to make unused available space available for them. HALO Animal Rescue moved into a former pet store and Strole said Metrocenter has also hosted training for dogs who work as support animals for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The “Metro Feastival” is scheduled for Saturday, June 15, from 5:30-9 p.m. and is expected to become a monthly event. Between 10 and 20 food trucks will be parked outside the food court near Harkins Theatre. Customers are invited to bring their food inside to eat.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.