Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix will be demolished. Here's what will go up in its place

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, December 9, 2021 - 5:15am
Updated: Friday, December 10, 2021 - 7:36am

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Closed entrance
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Metrocenter Mall officially closed on June 30, 2020.

Demolition and major redevelopment are coming to an iconic property in Phoenix.

More than 30 years ago, Metrocenter Mall served as a backdrop in action scenes in the movie, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” The time-travel comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter included a wild scene with security guards chasing historical figures through the mall.

Sixteen years earlier, when it opened in 1973, Metrocenter was believed to be the first mall west of the Mississippi River to have five department stores. For many years, it was a destination for shoppers, ice skaters, and video game fans. 

“That was the best place to go see Santa,” said Ann O’Brien. “It was a two-story mall with a giant tree. It was fun.”

As a child, Ann O’Brien visited Santa at Metrocenter. As a teenager, she worked there. Today, she represents the area as a member of the Phoenix City Council.

Bill & Ted
MGM Studios
Historical figures Billy the Kid and Abraham Lincoln at the San Dimas Mall food court in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” The 1989 movie filmed its mall scenes at Metrocenter.

“I’m so happy that we’re going to have this redevelopment of this area. It’s been much needed,” she said.

After years of decline, Metrocenter Mall officially closed last year. The new owners, Concord Wilshire Capital and TLG Investment Partners, will work with Hines to create what they call a community-driven walkable village, just off Interstate 17 between Dunlap and Peoria avenues.  

“We’re not just going to wipe the slate clean and create a, you know, Anytown, USA, type of project. We want to make it special,” said Chris Anderson, senior managing director of Hines. “We envision restaurants, some service retail so you know things like barber shop, child care. 

“We want to make it special.”
— Chris Anderson, Hines senior managing director

Development will be done in phases to include parks, an amphitheater and more than 2,600 apartments at different price points. Christine Mackay, Phoenix economic development director, said renters will include people who make between 80 and 120% of the area median income. For a two-person household, that’s $50,600 to $75,900. For a four-person household, the range is $63,200 to $94,800.

“It’s more known as attainable or workforce housing as opposed to subsidized housing,” Mackay said. “But more in the price point of the workforce that is in and around that particular area.”  

The site is near an existing Walmart Supercenter, Cholla Library, a branch of Phoenix Public Library, Castles ‘N Coasters amusement park, the Arizona Canal and Rose Mofford Sports Complex. Total construction costs are estimated at more than $750 million.

Nate Sirang, president of Concord Wilshire, called it a rare opportunity, “Eighty acres of land right in the middle, right in the heart of Phoenix and no development opportunities available like this with a mix of uses and the mix of demand.”

Light rail construction is underway at the site and, starting in 2024, passengers can travel downtown through Tempe and into Mesa. The City Council is expected to approve bonds to build public parking, just as it did for the redevelopment of Park Central Mall in midtown. In the case of Metrocenter, the garages will be smaller and spread out to best serve residents, visitors, and light rail park-and-ride users.

Mayor Kate Gallego thinks other cities can learn from Phoenix, “Many communities are really struggling with this and we have found that that public-private partnerships and new amenities is a great recipe for success. I expect Phoenix will get national attention for the mall redevelopment projects that we have been doing.”

The former Metrocenter Mall is a qualified Opportunity Zone, that’s a federal designation for an economically distressed area where new investments may be eligible for tax incentives. Councilwoman O’Brien said the project will generate new jobs and sales tax revenue, and boost nearby property values. 

“Ultimately, we are all impacted in the city — no matter where we live — by other parts of the city and so it’s important for us, I think we’re only as strong as our weakest link, and so it’s important for us to lift up everybody,” she said.



TOP: Preliminary sketches of the redevelopment Metrocenter site. Hines BOTTOM Dillard's Clearance Center is owned by Dillard's and was not part of the Metrocenter Mall closure in 2020. The former mall entrance next to Harkins Theatres, which will remain open. Christina Estes/KJZZ

Dillard’s Clearance Center will stay at the site, along with Harkins Theatres. In an email to KJZZ News, a Harkins' representative said: “We have been entertaining moviegoers at Metrocenter for nearly 30 years and plan to continue entertaining our loyal guests for many years to come.” 

When the former mall is demolished next year, Chris Anderson with Hines, said it doesn’t mean Metrocenter will be totally erased: “We don’t want people to forget about Metrocenter. But Metrocenter is just going to get a new life, a different form.”

They don’t yet know if the name will remain, but Anderson says the mall’s history will be highlighted — possibly incorporating Metrocenter signs into public art. The details must still be worked out, but the developers say they are committed to preserving memories of the iconic property and enlightening future generations.  

Christina Estes/KJZZ

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