MILWAUKEE -- A famous YouTube star is bringing new life to an abandoned mall as Casey Neistat filmed his holiday video inside Milwaukee's Northridge Mall and transformed it into a winter wonderland for children.
It's the first time we've seen inside the mall in more than a decade. The empty food court, broken glass and boarded up doors are just some of the sights inside the mall now. But for one special day, the mall's atrium became almost unrecognizable.
"All I could see was all of my childhood fantasies manifesting," said Casey Neistat, whose YouTube channel has more than 8 million subscribers.
He says for his Christmas video this year, he wanted to focus on giving back to the community. But he and his partners at Samsung needed somewhere empty and large.
"It just turns out that Milwaukee happens to have a fantastic, huge, empty shopping mall," said Neistat.
They welcomed 100 children from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and taught them how to become their own YouTube creators using Samsung phones.
"Consider this a set to demonstrate what you can do with a phone," said Paul Leys, the head of creator engagement at Samsung.
Leys actually grew up in Sheboygan and remembers shopping at Northridge mall as a kid. He, Neistat and more than a dozen other YouTube stars visited the Boys and Girls Club the night before the video shoot, to provide them with smart phones, microphones and other accessories to create videos.
"The reason we bring people like Casey and all these different creators here is because they're who kids look up to and their message to these kids and our message to kids equally is that you can be just like these creators, all you need is a phone," said Leys.
The children were able to explore the set that included a gingerbread house, ice skating rink, a sledding hill and snowboarders performing tricks down an escalator.
Neistat says they want to help the next generation of creators, but especially help children who may not otherwise have access to this technology.
"I see it as an opportunity and an opportunity to sort of elevate young kids and let them know that now because of technology, they're empowered in ways that they've never been empowered before," he said.
The future of Northridge mall is still unknown. Plans to revitalize the area were announced earlier this year when the alderwoman for that district announced a new partnership with UWM to look at what can be done with the space.
In the meantime, the holiday video Neistat produced inside the mall was posted on YouTube here.