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How A Formerly Dying Mall In East Bay Will Be Transformed Into A Lively Mixed-Use Development

Massive malls are creating new opportunities to build more housing in the Bay Area. The area surrounding Richmond’s The Shops at Hilltop, formerly Hilltop Mall, is being prepped for a massive mixed-use development that could add over 9,000 units of housing.   

AEI Consultants CEO Holly Neber

AEI Consultants provided a full-site evaluation, including environmental factors and facility condition, and found the site ideal for redevelopment.

Hilltop has good bones and has strong potential without too much investment, AEI Consultants CEO Holly Neber said. Its good environmental conditions make it ideal for multifamily.

Sometimes malls can have environmental impairments from former auto repair shops and dry cleaners that require additional investment for cleanup before they can be redeveloped for multifamily, Neber said.

A redevelopment of the 1.1M SF long-struggling mall will turn it into an entertainment complex in a city in need of more housing and retail amenities. For malls in dense areas with attractive demographics, like Hilltop, the focus on redevelopment has been on densification. Retail centers such as Santana Row in San Jose and Emeryville’s Bay Street have created mixed-use developments with housing over retail.

In suburban sites, developers are getting more creative and looking at broader economic trends to use the land to add data centers, shipping centers and education facilities, Neber said. 

The 77-acre site was previously rezoned to allow for housing, which will allow for an easier transition toward more density. Following the mall’s rebranding, LBG Real Estate Cos., which bought the mall last year, will begin on the exterior and interior of the mall as well as signage around the property.

Reinventing Retail As Entertainment

A rendering of part of LBG's design for The Shops at Hilltop

Much like other mall redevelopments, Hilltop’s focus will be to create a vibrant gathering space for people to share an experience beyond shopping, Neber said.

“Online shopping is having an impact on retail, but certain things can never be replaced and those are the values retailers are focusing on,” Neber said.

That has meant adding concierge services or creating community gathering spaces and hubs, she said. Some of the ideas for Hilltop include a movie theater, a live theater, a food court, a grocery store, restaurants and additional services.

Despite retail hitting hard times, Neber said she is optimistic about the future of retail.

“If you go back in time when communities had a little downtown where people would go to see a friend and hang out, it was about being together in a community space,” Neber said. “The best retail centers serve in that way. I don’t think online shopping can ever replace that human connection.”