Appleton opens first youth mall in US

Mandy Audette

Where do Appleton teens go when they want to have fun? Many hang out on College Avenue, some skateboard on the stairs in front of the Mudd library, and others hang out at the mall. But these activities can get boring and the teens can get into trouble. But what else is there?

Fortunately, people are working together to find a solution to this problem.

The Valley Fair Mall was the first enclosed mall built in America, and now on its 50th anniversary it is going to be the first youth mall in America.

Built in 1954, the Valley Fair Mall was a vibrant shopping center, but since then it has died.

YouthFutures seeks to revive the mall by transforming it into a fun and safe place to meet the diverse needs of teens in the community.

Plans for the mall include a skate park, designed by Area 51, which will open by the end of October; a stage; practice rooms; a recording studio; Extreme PC; coffee shops; a comedy club; a food court; paintball; a newspaper; and a climbing wall.

The inside walls will have plenty of space for teens to display their visual artwork and poetry.

“It is going to be like a town and grow like a town,” said Dave Lehman, the executive director of YouthFutures. It will have all the aspects of a town, such as entertainment, business, and government.

Teens and young adults have the opportunity to be involved in every area. There is already a committee of high school students providing input on everything from interior design to fundraising to deciding what businesses will come. There will soon be a similar committee with college-aged students.

YouthFutures is a “mall on a mission.” Their mission is “to nurture personal growth and development in our youth by providing them with opportunities to build character through a fun, safe and purpose driven community mall.” It is a “community based, faith friendly organization.”

The four core values of YouthFutures are to be loving (loving as in compassionate and respectful, not romantic), to be fun and cool, to be a safe place both physically and mentally, and to be innovative.

Matt’s House is a Christian organization that has its headquarters within the mall. Lehman explained that the name “Matt’s house” is based on a story about the apostle Matthew. According to the Bible, when Matthew decided to follow Jesus Christ, the first thing he did was invite Jesus to his house, where he threw a huge party with all of his friends.

Matt’s House is based on that party. Matt’s House seeks to “take back the idea of a party,” said Lehman. “Fun does not have to include drugs and alcohol,” he said.

The Chris Farley Foundation is another organization partnered in the youth mall. On Friday, Oct. 24, from 6 p.m. to midnight they will host a Tommy Boy night that will benefit the youth mall project. They will show the movie Tommy Boy, serve pizza, play music, and host a Tommy Boy look-alike and impression contest. Tickets are $10.50.

Although retailers are moving in and the skate park is being built, YouthFutures is still in the process of planning, fundraising, and finalizing the purchase of the building. They are seeking college-aged students to form a committee to help with plans and input.

It is true that malls have been built specifically for teens. But this is the first youth mall built by a non-profit company with positive development for the youth as its goal rather than making money. YouthFutures’ website is and it has information about volunteering, upcoming events and tickets for the Tommy Boy night.

To get to Valley Fair Mall from Lawrence drive south on Oneida street and west on Calumet street.