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Looking Back: Great Lakes Crossing

Many of us are familiar with the nine districts that make up the Great Lakes Crossing outlet mall just miles from campus, whether it be from the Black Friday sales or from the fire across the street from it just a couple weeks ago.

What many don’t know is that the mall is as old as many of the students currently attending Oakland University. The “supermall” opened in November 1998, and by March of that year it was planned to be an outlet mall.

But when opening a $200 million mall, workers are needed to get it running. The Oakland Post reported in March of 1998 that there was a shortage of labor in Oakland County because of a low unemployment rate of 2 percent.

One of the hyped features of the upcoming mall was a “Steven Spielberg-inspired virtual reality restaurant” known as GameWorks. It was one of few that existed outside of California’s Disneyland.

An online search reveals that GameWorks closed in 2010 after Sega reorganized and the portion of their company running the location filed for bankruptcy in 2004. The Oakland Press explained the location was one of the major fixtures of the outlet mall.

Today, this space in the mall is occupied by the Sea Life aquarium, which is the largest aquarium in the state.

One of the locations planned at launch, according to The Oakland Post’s 1998 article, was Rainforest Café. Ironically, this restaurant is located right by where the Bear Bus drops students off each weekend in District 6 of the mall.

However, originally, the mall was not planned to have “Districts”. The original concept was for the mall’s interior to look like wooden boathouses in the Upper Peninsula and for stores to be arranged in “neighborhoods” according to what type of merchandise the stores sold.

This concept is still somewhat in place, with District 6 being mostly food and entertainment, though the other districts’ concepts are a bit more complicated to grasp.

Great Lakes Crossing was not conceived as an outlet mall. Rather, it was planned as a traditional mall. A Vice President of Taubman Centers developers in Auburn Hills, Christopher Tennyson said that at the time there were plans for a possible casino in Oakland County.

Because this set up Auburn Hills as a tourist destination, there were plans set in place to build a hotel nearby as well.

The mall was officially named Great Lakes Crossing. However, in 2010, it went through a rebranding officially changing its name to Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall, bringing in a slew of new stores such as a Lord and Taylor outlet.

Now Great Lakes Crossing has become a tourist destination in and of itself. Besides the aforementioned Sea Life, Great Lakes Crossing hosts the only Round One arcade in the state, and hosts the first location of IT’Sugar in the state of Michigan.

One thing has never changed. Just like 19 years ago, Great Lakes Crossing is still a popular location for OU students to find that part-time job for the holidays.

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