FORD MOTOR COMPANY CONVERTS AN IDLE MANUFACTURING PLANT INTO A PROSPEROUS OUTLET MALL.
Byline: Michael Marlow
MILPITAS, Calif. — In 1955, when Ford Motor Co. opened a manufacturing plant here on 110 acres at the base of the San Francisco Bay, the firm hoped to churn out autos for decades.
However, the plant closed in 1983 when the market dried up, and it remained closed until Sept. 22, when Ford Motor Co. reopened the complex. It’s now as productive as ever, not as a plant, but rather as a sprawling 1.3 million-square-foot retail center called The Great Mall of the Bay Area. Ford officials bill it as the largest mall opening in the U.S. this year. Last week, the mall proudly gave its one millionth visitor a $500 gift certificate and disclosed that 70 percent of the space – not a bad start – has been leased so far. The $130 million redevelopment features a mix of outlet and off-price stores. Retailers introduced into the market include Rampage Warehouse Store, a Rampage Clothing Co. outlet; Coliseum, the BUM Equipment outlet; Old Navy Clothing Co., The Gap’s new, lower-priced chain, and Bebe Outlet. Other discount anchors include Marshalls Superstore, Supersports USA, Burlington Coat Factory and Linens N Things.
Transportation themes were used in the design of the building, with different areas saluting autos, ships, trains and future modes of transportation. In the auto section, for example, an actual 1957 Ford Skyliner with a retractable hardtop is displayed, and in the section devoted to planes, a simulated jet hangs from the ceiling.
Bill McNair, vice president of the Western region for Ford Motor Land Development Corporation, said the mall is a model project for idle manufacturing plants across the country. Construction workers at The Great Mall incorporated much of the original design of the plant into the redesign, saving Ford from purchasing about 9,500 tons of metal and 41,000 cubic yards of concrete, McNair said.
“It’s certainly something that’s being looked at by other cities and other communities,” McNair said. “I don’t know that Ford will do it because we don’t have any other idle plants, but this is something that can be done in any other kind of manufacturing plant as well.”
In the Fifties, during a postwar economic boom, the plant was part of a large-scale nationwide expansion program by Ford. The plant produced cars such as the Falcon, Fairlane, Mustang, Cougar, Pinto, Escort and — for a brief period in the late Fifties — the Edsel. It was considered an industrial giant, employing as many as 5,000 and producing 1,000 cars and trucks. Its closing was a major blow to the area, which is seven miles from San Jose, 35 miles from Oakland and 50 miles from San Francisco.
The Great Mall has again given an economic boost to the area, drawing shoppers from throughout the Bay Area. About 500 people have been employed during the last 18 months in the construction of the mall, and 3,500 are expected to be employed at the center and in its 12 anchors and 210 manufacturer and off-price specialty tenants when it is fully occupied.
McNair said the Bay Area’s 6 million residents are its main customer target base, in addition to tourists who visit the Bay area. It is accessible by several freeways. A future interchange from I-880 will offer an even more direct route for some to the center.
Ford developed the site with Petrie Dierman Kughn, a shopping center developer based in McLean, Va. Although Ford is known best for manufacturing cars and trucks, the Ford Motor Land Development Corporation has been involved in other land development projects. It was established in 1970 to develop uses for more than 2,000 acres surrounding its corporate headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The site became a business, retail and residential community.
In the mid-Seventies, Ford also developed Detroit’s Renaissance Center, a major office, hotel and retail area on the city’s waterfront. Ford also has been involved in commercial real estate development in Colorado Springs, Colo., and in Sacramento and La Mirada, Calif.