When I came across the third free-standing daiquiri bar at Riverwalk Marketplace on the Mighty Mississippi in New Orleans, I realized this was not your everyday mall. It was awash in hot sauce, Mardi Gras masks and beignets from city landmark, Café Du Monde. The national chains were lost among the gewgaws and neon. It got me thinking: Is the festival mall an idea whose time has come — especially now that General Growth Properties Inc. owns the concept's originator, The Rouse Co.?

I put the question to John Bucksbaum, General Growth CEO. “When Jim Rouse invested in the festival marketplace, it was unique; very forward-thinking,” Bucksbaum says. “Over time, not all have worked out economically the way they were envisioned.” But Bucksbaum quickly notes, festival malls represent only about 5 percent of the Rouse portfolio and less than 1 percent of General Growth's total holdings.

Rouse lost its independence. The malls and management will be absorbed by General Growth. Thirteen of the top 15 Rouse managers were let go, with only Bill Hecht and Scott Ball in asset management remaining.

Bucksbaum wouldn't disclose specific plans for the Rouse malls, but did say that changes are under way, particularly in the area of merchandise mix. Look for more Williams-Sonoma Inc. (including Pottery Barn and PBKids) stores and Barnes & Noble Inc. locations as well as more sit-down restaurants such as P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano's Little Italy and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. “These are chains we've worked with and would be great additions,” Bucksbaum says. The company also will add theaters, where appropriate.

The General Growth malls, including the Rouse additions, won't have a specific look, he says. “When you consider how much expansion and renovation is going on in our portfolio now, we can make each a special place and give the customer some sort of different experience.”

The ideal mall experience is General Growth's Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, Iowa, one of the growing number of so-called “hybrid” malls that are a blend of shopping center styles. (See story on page 26.) Some of its other properties are moving in that direction through expansion.

The 2-million-square-foot Jordan Creek project includes the “Shopping District,” a two-level enclosed mall, “The Village,” an open-air lifestyle center and the “Lake District,” a 3.5-acre lake surrounded by bike trails, pedestrian walkways and a boardwalk with waterfront dining, a hotel and an amphitheater. Expect more centers like this. They're still festive, he says, and include plenty of entertainment, but they also include more national chains. “We have been most aggressive in terms of lifestyle components with exterior-facing shops that add new life to existing closed malls,” he says.

It seems to me that Riverwalk, with its imposing setting, would be more exciting as an open-air, lifestyle center. When shopping on the crowded, dark ground floor, I couldn't even tell the Mississippi was parallel to the mall. It would be much more fun if stores opened right to the river, where steamboats cruise by regularly. Now, that would be festive.

Vitals

Location: New Orleans

Size: 197,000 square feet

Opened: 1986

Owner: General Growth Properties Inc.

Some stores: Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Tabasco Country Store, Mardi Gras Madness,