Emily Helterline, 80, has lived here long enough to remember when Northgate Mall was open-air and Nordstrom only sold shoes. Yesterday, she echoed the...

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Emily Helterline, 80, has lived here long enough to remember when Northgate Mall was open-air and Nordstrom only sold shoes.

Yesterday, she echoed the thoughts of many: “I think it’s about time.”

Simon Property Group, which owns and manages Northgate Mall, unveiled plans to add 100,000 square feet of open-air retail and restaurant space to one of the nation’s oldest malls.

The move comes nearly 20 years after former owner DeBartolo Property Management first tried to expand the mall, stymied over the years by environmental laws and neighborhood protests against traffic.

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The expansion is viewed as a win for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council, which broke the deadlock by lifting development restrictions in exchange for concessions from property owners.

With additional plans to turn five acres of asphalt into green space and add landscaping, Jo Dawson, president of the Haller Lake Community Center, said the plan is “a move in the right direction.”

Northgate Mall, originally opened in May 1950, becomes the latest regional mall to embrace the “lifestyle center.” Conceived to feel less mall, more town square, the new design features stores and restaurants accessible from landscaped sidewalks.

While University Village and Redmond Town Center are true lifestyle centers — all open-air with every store accessible from sidewalks — Bellevue Square and Alderwood mall in Lynwood have added lifestyle components in recent years to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Retail experts say these centers have become popular over the past decade as aging baby boomers discovered real downtowns, with their eclectic mix of retail and entertainment.

Regional shopping malls have tried to copy that urban vitality to win those customers’ dollars.

Simon Property Group said it would complete the expansion in two phases. The mall plans Oct. 1 to begin demolition of the long-vacant medical building and theater on the north end of the property.

To avoid the holiday rush, it won’t begin actual construction until January, when it plans to add anchor Barnes & Noble, other retail space, plazas at mall entrances and a multilevel parking area next to JCPenney.

The mall said it will stay open during construction and expects the first phase to end a year from now.

The second phase, projected to last from January 2007 through that summer, will add retail space south of Nordstrom, including an expanded Gene Juarez Salon and Spa.

Eva Hanzeli, who attended the unveiling ceremony yesterday, said she liked what she saw. The longtime Northgate neighbor said all that’s needed now is a grocery nearby.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a safe, economically healthy and environmentally pleasant place,” Hanzeli said.

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com