Wireless Internet access has become nearly ubiquitous in many commercial property types and is finally making its way to the mall. Properties across the country — from Bellevue, Wash. to Palm Beach, Fla. — have opted to offer the service as a way of keeping shoppers at a property longer.

No major mall owner has launched an effort to bring wireless access to their entire portfolios. Most are pursuing the service on an one-off basis, primarily at centers with open-air lifestyle components.

One such property is the new Downtown at the Gardens, a 345,000-square-foot property built by Menin Development Cos. that opened in November 2005.

“The property has a lot of little courtyards and has a lot of little seating areas,” says Ashley Ostroff, director of marketing for Menin. “The idea as a whole is to create a place where people wanted to come for the ambience as much as the shopping or the restaurants.”

Menin launched the wireless service in early August. It advertised the service through signage throughout the property. “Where you enter it now says that Downtown offers wireless service with instructions on how to log on. We've already noticed people coming out and sitting on the benches checking their e-mail or using wireless PDAs while walking through the property.”

Menin will receive monthly reports from its service provider to find out how often the service is being accessed. When users first log on, they have to provide a valid e-mail address, which is how the provider will track how many people come and how often they use the service. The company has not yet decided whether it will offer access at any of its other Florida properties. Ostroff wouldn't discuss how much Menin was paying to offer the technology.

“We have a few properties that are in the site-planning stages, but we haven't thought about this yet,”Ostroff says. “We'll have to see how it goes here first.”

Wi-Fi at a Crossroads

Ostroff says she didn't know of any other properties in South Florida offering free Wi-Fi, but the service has popped up elsewhere. In fact, Crossroads Bellevue (Wash.) has been providing free wireless access at its property for five years.

“Crossroads is an unusual mix of stores, community services, community gathering places and a large international public market,” says Lynn Terpstra, marketing director for the property. The 277,000-square-foot property includes no traditional anchors, but it does include a library, which is part of how the wireless program got started. The property is located one mile from the Microsoft main campus. Local developer Ron Sher hooked up with the technology behemoth to offer the service as a pilot program when wireless technology was first getting off the ground.

That project was eventually abandoned, but Microsoft left the access boxes at the property. Soon thereafter the King County Library System decided to take advantage of the boxes to launch The Library Connection @ Crossroads installing 16 computers connected with the Wi-Fi network for patrons to use. The mall was able to piggyback off that service to offer wireless access to its customers.

The service has been so successful that local developer Ron Sher has since taken the concept to the Crossroads' sister project, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash.

In terms of larger property owners, CBL & Associates Properties is offering wireless access at the food court of its Coastal Grand Property in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Meanwhile, Triple Five Group rolled out wireless access at the largest mall in North America — the West Edmonton Mall. However, the service is partially aimed at the property's tenants as well as guests at the mall's hotel, not just shoppers. Users must pay $10.95 for 24 hours access or $34.95 per month.