ViaPort Rotterdam showing signs of recovery
Columnist Sara Foss finds new life at old Rotterdam Square Mall
Sara Foss | April 8, 2017 0
I went to Crossgates Mall in January, to see the comedian Mike Birbiglia perform at the Funny Bone. I went to Colonie Center in late March, to see the horror film "Get Out." I went to Stuyvesant Plaza in December to eat dinner with friends.
The one thing I rarely do - and I'm not alone - is shop at the mall.
Shopping is the lifeblood of malls, which is why in recent months there's been one ominous dispatch after another about the death of malls, shopping plazas, even retail.
"A fresh round of distress signals sounded in the retail industry this week, as another big-name chain announced hundreds of new store closings and still others moved aggressively to recalibrate their businesses for the online shopping stampede," the Washington Post reported last week, in an article titled "The troubles at the American mall are coming to a boil."
If malls are going to survive, they will need to reinvent themselves, and the solution might not lie in shopping, but in entertainment and recreation.
One local mall that has successfully resurrected itself is the Rotterdam Square Mall, re-christened ViaPort Rotterdam by new owners in 2015.
Not too long ago, Rotterdam Square appeared to be on its deathbed, and I was quite certain it would join the ranks of defunct American malls. When the new owners announced plans to build an aquarium there, I was skeptical. "Who's ever heard of a mall aquarium?" I thought. "It will never happen."
But it did happen, and last week I visited the aquarium at ViaPort Rotterdam.
It was a weekday, but a steady stream of people wandered through the building - a mix, for the most part, of parents with young children and retirees.
In its first year of operation, the aquarium achieved some impressive numbers, with its 100,000th customer visiting in late January. But I didn't expect to see a lot of people there on a school day, and while I wouldn't characterize the place as busy, there was a line to get in and a fair amount of activity once I got inside.
The aquarium is attractive and fun, with exhibits on local and regional water life as well as water life from around the world.
It isn't the New England Aquarium in Boston - families determined to see larger fish and marine animals won't find them in Rotterdam. But that doesn't mean there isn't magic to be found in the tanks at the mall.
I was particularly entranced by the pale and ghostly jellyfish, the tank full of stingrays (which visitors can touch) and the seahorses. The highlight is shark alley, a tank tunnel where fish swim beside you and above your head.
I paid the weekday adult price of $16 plus tax - about $20, overall - which struck me as a bit steep. But the price for children between the ages of 4 and 17 - $10, plus tax - seemed fairly reasonable, and children three and under get in free.
The Via Port Aquarium had it's 100,000th customer visit the attraction on Wednesday February 22, 2017. Via Aquarium Director David Gross congratulates, Tony Simmons, daughter Heather Jennings and granddaughter Emma Jenner along with wife Kim Simmons of Philmont, N.Y. The family received $100.00 to Via Entertainment, $100.00 to the Via Port gift store and a family four pack to Via Aquarium.
The aquarium website suggests spending 90 minutes at the aquarium, but older children will likely to move through it more quickly. My friend Amy, a West Sand Lake resident with three boys, said she spent about two hours there, but a colleague told me that his kids spent about a half hour there. That's quite a difference.
Which might explain why the mall's other big entertainment attractions - the bowling alley and the arcade - are conveniently located directly across from the aquarium. Some families might balk at spending more money after visiting the aquarium, but there's plenty of other stuff to do if they're willing to do so.
Whether malls will survive remains to be seen, but ViaPort Rotterdam is in a good position to do so, because it is family friendly and accessible, with activities for all ages.
At one time, the American mall was all about shopping.
Now it's a place where you can shop, but also enjoy a day or evening out with family or friends. There are a lot of people like me - people who do most of their shopping online, and only visit the mall when there's some sort of event or attraction to lure them there.
The owners of ViaPort understand this, and it's why their mall is making a recovery.https://dailygazette.com/article/2017/04/08/foss-reimagined-viaport-rotterdam-seems-to-work