Photo courtesy of Ross Park Mall.

This week, the Ross Township Board of Commissioners voted to approve the demolition of the vacant Sears at Ross Park Mall to make way for a three-story mix of retail and entertainment options.

While most of the tenants have yet to be announced, township authorities confirmed that the new space will include dozens of storefronts, a movie theater and a 50-foot climbing wall operated by First Ascent Climbing and Fitness.

That section of the mall will also include a movie theater and a redesigned food court.

The project was initially proposed by the mall’s owners, Simon Property Group, in February. But the board delayed the vote due to concerns over pedestrian access to the complex from McKnight Road. Since then, Simon has entered into discussions with the Port Authority to explore adding bus stops near the mall.

In an interview with NEXTpittsburgh in February, Les Morris, director of corporate public relations for Simon Property Group, said the company is focused on adding “experiential entertainment components”  to their properties all over the world in response to changing shopping tastes.

“It’s a chance to reposition the space in a more attractive way,” said Morris. “We’re very active in anchor redevelopment operations, which is what we’re doing at Ross Park.”

Speaking after the vote this week, Morris declined to speculate on the total cost or construction timeline for the project. “It’s just too early,” he said.

While many other malls in the area have closed in the last decade, Ross Park Mall expanded with additions including Nordstrom, L.L.Bean and Crate & Barrel — none of which can be found elsewhere in town. They’ve also added unique features like a Wigle Whiskey tasting room.

“Ross Park Mall is strong because it has Nordstrom as a unique anchor and has other fashion retailers who want to be near them. It is a destination mall,” said Don Carter, director of Urban Design and Regional Engagement for the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “The proposed project will certainly enhance that status.”

However, Carter also noted that the increased business brought in by the new entertainment and retail options at Ross Park Mall may not increase sales at other businesses and restaurants in the surrounding community. In fact, it may draw visitors away from nearby competitors.

“Other malls and shopping centers in the North Hills may find the going a little tougher,” Carter explained. “Here in Pittsburgh, there is a fixed amount of retail spending from a regional population that is not growing.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.