By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Apr 25, 2008 at 7:07 AM

Recent news that Linens 'n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states and an anchor at the Shops of Grand Avenue Downtown, may file for bankruptcy brought the mall's future to my mind's forefront. Sorry to lead with the bad news.

On the good news front, talk of Best Buy and / or Target coming to the Shops of Grand Avenue is starting to gain some traction. I think adding one or both would help solidify the center's future and, more importantly, reinvent it.

First, though, some background and then my five ideas for the future of the Shops of Grand Avenue. The mall (you call it "Grand Avenue" or simply "The Grand") opened in 1982 at a time when it was able to secure market-only leases or big name players like The Gap, Banana Republic, Laura Ashley and others. Once these initial leases, especially Banana Republic's, expired, companies started opening other locations at area malls (Mayfair, Bayshore, etc.) and thus began the downturn of the area's most popular shopping destination. But, that was years ago.

In 2005, the mall's major owner, Northwestern Mutual, sold it after getting the city to do nearly $10 million in upgrades that in my humble opinion didn't help the place. But, they did help lure Linen's ‘n Things, TJ Maxx and Old Navy into the Plankinton Arcade. And they are good additions. Anyway, it was sold to New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp (ACC), which is said to be eyeing another major redevelopment and / or facelift. It's about time.

My ideas, for what they are worth:

Go after and secure the big guys
Chain haters, go away. Downtown needs them. If this Target / Best Buy rumor is true, I'm thrilled. If not, the owners should continue their quest to land a few more big concepts. It's not an easy quest, but Downtown is still on the upswing and add  more than 80,000 workers to the mix and there's a market for larger retail.

The smaller tenants may have to move, but I truly think the mall's future is with larger retail. Quickly, on the Target / Best Buy rumor. Erica Anderson, Director of Marketing and Specialty Leasing told me, "I am unable to comment on any new tenancy we are looking at for The Shops." And, I'm awaiting a return message from Barry Lustig at AAC.

Many real estate insiders have confirmed that both companies are looking at Milwaukee's Downtown. Target officials, though, aren't talking.

"Daniel," in guest relations, said, "As you might imagine, a lot of time and work goes into determining where and when to build a Target store. There's involvement by people in the private and government areas and it may take months or even years to build a store. Sometimes Target is mentioned as an example of a possible store anchor for a project by a developer or city. I don't have any information about a store in the area you mentioned."

A representative from Best Buy, Bill, didn't confirm or deny, but interestingly said he didn't "have any information on an opening day for that store."  

Blow up the main entrance facing Wisconsin Avenue
What is that horn-like "sculpture," anyway? Seriously, it's ugly and stuck in some weird design period when colors and craziness reigned. Sadly, it's still rather new. What were they thinking? Blow it up, and start over.

Kill the food court
Bold, I know, as many of you only to the Grand for the food court. I have nothing against it, but let's move the restaurants street-side and open them to the outside world. And, those photos of food that lace the area? Ugly, ugly and appetite killing. At least paint over them. I like many of the vendors, but I think that the whole "food court" notion is a bit dated. Move them to a more visible place.

A new coat of paint and new colors
Is it just me, or is the whole mall painted in "puke yellow"? Paint it something more inviting and more welcoming and complimentary to the natural light and nice floors.

Seating and ambience
The Plankinton Arcade area (with Linens and TJ Maxx) from a pure structural standpoint is pretty cool and unique. The rest, though, lacks energy and a friendly vibe. No seating, no warmth and no real community feel except the Stone Creek Coffee area in the skywalk and maybe the area just next to Wild Flour Bakery. Overall, the mall needs seating (think Mayfair), feng shui and ambience.

I may seem a bit harsh in my comments, but it's only because I care. I frequent the mall at least 2-3 times a week and want it to succeed. The merchants, security and staff are all friendly and focused. It's time for its owner to make the necessary upgrades and changes.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.