A dead mall near Rochester, New York, is now affordable senior housing

Cheers for Sears

A dead mall near Rochester, New York, is now affordable senior housing

Dozens of apartments for lower-income seniors were carved out of a retrofitted former Sears department store near Rochester, New York. (Passero Associates)

Every year, fewer and fewer Americans will experience the thrill of a fresh ear piercing at Claire’s or the dopamine release of an Auntie Anne’s pretzel that blunts the tedium of price-shopping for BOGO sport socks at Foot Locker. This is because the mall, the native environment of chain retailers like those mentioned above, is a struggling retail typology that’s one cellphone-kiosk-slash-smoothie-hut away from asphyxiation by online shopping. Dying and dead malls—huge, half-abandoned rectangles ensconced in acres of parking—both epitomize the excesses of capitalism and vex architects with their hard-to-retrofit, big-box designs.

While it’s tough to retrofit a dead mall, projects like the one that just wrapped in upstate New York demonstrate that it’s not impossible. Today New York State Governor Kathy Hochul heralded the completion of a seniorsaffordable housing complex built from a reworked Sears department store near Rochester.

The $44.3 million Skyview Park Apartments development includes 157 units, with 84 apartments available to seniors 55-plus and 78 units available for seniors who need supportive social services. While the majority of the homes were part of a brand-new build, the architects carved 73 units into a vacant Sears in the erstwhile Irondequoit Mall, about five miles from downtown Rochester.

“Transforming the long-vacant Irondequoit Mall into new homes for seniors is an important investment that will benefit the community for years to come,” Governor Hochul said in a press release. “The entire Skyview project underscores the potential that exists with under-utilized commercial properties and how they can be repurposed to benefit residents and businesses in our communities. Housing is a human right and we will continue supporting transformative projects like Skyview Park Apartments to tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all.”

All residents can relax and garden in the complex’s three courtyards, enjoy two patios with grills, work out at an onsite gym, and and socialize in an indoor community space. Skyview Park Apartments join a mall redevelopment that includes a 41,000-square-foot rec center, as well as the Rochester Regional Health’s Isabella Graham Hart School of Nursing.

A project brief by Newburgh, New York–based Passero Associates noted that among the site’s advantages was “[an] existing firewall separating the space from the balance of the super structure and independent utility services from the site that didn’t rely on internal connections. This situation is common as many large retailers have their own subdivided ‘lot’ even though the buildings are connected.”

In collaboration with Christa Construction and the not-for-profit developer Pathstone Corporation, Passero Associates removed sections of the Sears interior to create courtyards that both allow light into the units and provide spaces for residents to congregate (presumably in the five months out of the year when it’s not cold as all get out in the Great Lakes region).

Area seniors must earn 60 percent of the Area Median Income or less to qualify for the affordable units.