Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hawks Town Mall: Dead and Loving It

Yesterday I got to see the last regular season game at the Fukuoka Dome. This was courtesy of Ena`s employer, who gave her a pair of tickets. Unfortunately they didn`t give her the day off to go with them, so it was a bit of an empty gesture on their part as she had to work that day.

The seats were great, just behind third base. The Hawks lost the game 2-1, but it didn`t matter much as they had clinched the Pacific League about a month ago. After the game the team did a victory lap to celebrate the pennant win, which was cool to see:
After the game I made my way through the Hawks Town Mall,which is where I parked my bike. The Hawks Town Mall is something of an albatross in the Fukuoka landscape and I`ve been meaning to write something about it for the longest time, so I thought I`d use this post to do just that.
This is the story of what is slowly turning into a `dead mall`. Dead malls - that is to say malls that are either completely or partially empty and abandoned - are a relativly common part of the landscape in North America but they are relatively rare in Japan. Japan of course has tons of abandoned buildings, especially in the countryside, but malls are a relatively new phenomenah here so most haven`t been around long enough to have completely failed yet.
The Hawks Town Mall is pretty new, having opened in 2000. It was part of a larger development of the area on reclaimed land which included the SeaHawk Hotel and the Fukuoka Dome itself. The original plans date back to the late 80s during the height of the bubble when the Hawks first moved to Fukuoka from their old home in Osaka. The overly ambitious early plans envisioned two domes being built, though the second dome was later dropped from the plans.

The whole place was bought by a Singaporean fund, GIC, in 2007 and by the looks of it they have had some trouble trying to keep the Mall running.

I say this because when we arrived in 2008 it was very obvious that they were having trouble finding tenants to fill the place. Back then most of the shops were at least open, but there was an abundance of empty space. It seemed like they were giving massive stores to businesses that only had enough merchandise to fill about half the space they were given. This Hawks souvenir shop I visited yesterday would be one example:
Huge aisles and racks about half full. You almost never see this type of inefficient use of space in Japan, where shops are normally packed to the rafters with almost no elbow room.

Over the years though even this strategy proved incapable of keeping all the shops occupied and boarded up storefronts began to appear.
By the time I visited yesterday, it was apparent that the problem was spiralling out of control. Empty shops were everywhere.
Wandering around I discovered that a couple of entire wings of the mall had been closed off:
Behind the temporary screens, dozens of store sit empty and silent:The Hawks Town Mall has two floors and before these wings were closed off it had a rather sprawling layout. Just about everywhere you go you see bits where they have closed hallways off: I`m not sure why the mall has done so poorly. It is one of three major mall projects in Fukuoka. The first one, Canal City, is doing quite well and in fact just expanded. The second one, Marinoa, is having problems. It used to have the largest ferris wheel in Japan, but a few months ago the thing collapsed while workers were disassembling it, crushing a few cars and damaging a hotel attached to the mall.

Canal City, it should be noted, is in a very busy part of town right next to the Nakasu entertainment district, so it has no problem getting people in the doors. Hawks Town Mall and Marinoa, on the other hand, are in much less convenient locations on the periphery of town and neither has a direct subway or train link, which probably explains part of their problems. If you visit the Hawks Town Mall on a day when the Hawks aren`t playing a home game it is likely to be almost completely deserted. It also doesn`t help much that Hawks Town, despite what the tourist information says, is not a particularly interesting piece of architecture. While a lot of people don`t like it, Canal City at least has the benefit of looking interesting and having a lot of flair in its design. Hawks Town Mall is, in contrast, your typical cheaply made piece of functional dreck that most malls are built like. And the shopping isn`t particularly good either, other than a Toys R Us its largest shops seem to mostly be ones selling Hawks souvenirs, which do all their business on days when the Hawks have home games (less than 80 days a year) and are of limited interest to anyone the rest of the time.

Anyway, if you enjoy that sense of schadenfreude at seeing big, ill-conceived mega projects that have failed completely - a trip to the Hawks Town Mall is for you!


Anonymous said...

Yes you hit it right on the head, its a drecky theme mall that make no sense, it was built in an for an era and consumer that no longer exists. Its a holdhover from the great real estate and stock bubble that ended in the early 1990s.

Sean said...

THanks for the comment. It really is a drecky place isn`t it? I wonder what will become of it in the future.