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Wisconsin malls add amenities in effort to rebound

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Some urban and suburban malls are being revived through redevelopment that adds amenities, but that approach might not succeed in smaller Wisconsin markets where distressed malls are having a harder 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 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 likely rebound, while rural malls continue to struggle, said Garrick Brown, a national retail researcher with Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate services company. Adding housing or medical centers may help make locations viable.

"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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