Dongguan, China can boast the world’s largest mall when measured by total leasable area. It is three times the size of The Mall of America, the largest mall in the United States.
However, South China Mall was designated a “ghost mall” even the ten years it was open since it had so little custom.
The first owner and initiator of the project was the millionaire Hu Guirong, known for the wealth he’d accrued through the instant noodle industry. Dongguan was his hometown, and he wanted to make it more memorable in some way, so he decided to build an immense shopping center.
In 2005, the South China Mall hosted its official opening. The total area available to rent was 659,612 square meters (7,099,990 square feet). It had the capacity for about 2,350 retail premises.
To make the shopping center unique and attractive for both local and international visitors, the mall was divided into seven zones, each dedicated to a different area of the world: Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean, and California.
Hu had grand plans for this mall. Incorporated into its design were copies of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe measuring 25 meters (27 yards) as well as the Egyptian Sphinx, a roller coaster 553 meters long (605 yards long), and a fountain. The goal was initially to attract 200,000 visitors per day.
The shopping center consists of five floors, and $1.3 billion was initially allocated for its construction. However, a mistake made in the planning phase relating to the choice of location possibly doomed the mall to failure even before the first foundation was laid.
The shopping center is located on former farmlands 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Dongguan city center with no direct public transport links. Nearby regions are Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and the area offers so many shopping centers that residents of Dongguan were just not tempted to make the journey to the South China Mall.
In December 2006, the owner decided to sell a 50% controlling interest in the mall. The buyer was Founder Group, part of Peking University.
In September 2007, the name of the center changed to New South China Mall, which was part of a makeover attempt that the owners hoped would reinvent the site and improve business.
In 2009, Utopia Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall was shot by American director Sam Green about the mall and its history. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival that year and was also broadcast on PBS.
For ten years, less than ten percent of the mall was occupied by lessees. In 2011, this figure dropped to one percent.
The mall had some visitors thanks to McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Kungfu, an IMAX movie theater, and a go-kart track. Yet every year, the staff found it increasingly difficult to maintain the state of the shopping center. The decorations inside began to fade and age, and almost 99% of the lots remained empty.
However, there might be hope for this ghost mall yet. It was recently decided to renovate the mall to attract the Chinese middle class rather than the upper class, as had been the previous intention. The shopping center has been modernized, and the makeover seems to be working as there are both customers and tenants filling up the New South China Mall.
Future projects intended to draw even more people to the location include building a globe-shaped IMAX cinema as well as adding other entertainment attractions for children.
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