27 October 2013

Extant Assets - Bridge Street Town Centre, Huntsville, AL

Bridge Street Town Centre's genesis can perhaps be traced all of the way back to the early sixties. It was then that a man named Milton Cummings purchased land on the small but growing town of Huntsville's western extremities to build a new headquarters for his young company, Brown Engineering. The Army had already moved much of their missile program to the Redstone Arsenal while NASA's new Marshall Space Flight Center had just opened its doors. The next logical step was to enable a cluster of the high tech and research companies that were sure to follow a place to grow. Thus, Cummings Research Park was created and has since grown to the United States' second largest research park. It also ranks as the fifth largest on the globe.

By the time that the eighties came around, the park was nearly at capacity. So eight hundred acres of farmland further west was purchased to expand the park into what is now known as Cummings Research Park West. The expansion's main thoroughfare would run in a circular fashion through this phase, and at the center of this loop was to be the anchor of the park- a commercial center combining live, work and play elements years before this concept became a nationwide buzz phrase. Adtran, however, ended up building their headquarters on that land, forcing the planners to offer an alternate parcel for the commercial center. Its proposed location was moved to the southeastern corner of the park, a less central position but one that offered better road access. However, it would still be over a decade before the plans for this commercial center came to fruition.

 
The original rendering and layout of what was then known as The Commercial Center of Research Park. (Source)

In the early 2000s, O&S Holdings of California was chosen to develop the property. Having seen success with their Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier, LA, they presented a striking proposal for the facility. The retail center was to be located on a narrow isthmus between two lakes with a bridge traversing a small waterway connecting the two bodies of water. It was to be anchored by one, or perhaps two, department stores, a cineplex and a large hotel. Surrounding the lakes would be greenspaces, walking trails, residential units and office buildings. Its proposed name- World Famous Bridge Street. I loved it. It was quite the departure from the usual [Insert Pleasant and Airy Word Combination Here] Town Center that had become so overused.

 
L- Business Journal article about Bridge Street, ca. 2003. View the full PDF version here.
R- An early Bridge Street layout, ca. 2006. A lot of the stores listed never actually moved in, but it's interesting to see what names the developers had in mind. View the full PDF version here.

I always thought that the name World Famous Bridge Street gave more of an impression that the development was intended to be entertainment focused, which is something that was sorely needed in a city which was rarely described as exciting. Besides, Madison Square, the city's go-to retail facility, was located just down Research Park Boulevard while Parkway Place had just opened on the city's south end, with its own upscale skew. It was kind of exciting to have another new concept come to my little town.

 
Bridge Street in the evening. (Source)

Not long after the groundbreaking a few changes were announced. First, there would be no full-line department stores, only junior anchors such as Barnes and Noble. Second, much of the proposed residential and office space was put on hold. Thirdly, they were dropping the World Famous, keeping the Bridge Street and slapping Town Centre to the end of the name, complete with the douchey -TRE spelling of the last word. The design was modified slightly, which I thought was actually an improvement on the design's original s-shape. I was still hopeful that something special was in store for my hometown, despite the conforming name.

 
L- Bridge Street Town Centre Mallmanac, ca. 2010. View the full PDF version here.
R- Bridge Street Town Centre Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

I watched with interest as Bridge Street Town Centre rose from the flat landscape of the city's western fringes. The hotel would be a Westin, the state's first, twelve stories tall and topped by a few floors of condominiums. Tons of Alabama red clay was moved for the installation of the two lakes. Barnes and Noble, with its Spanish tiled roof, seemed to be finished way before the rest of the buildings. It was fascinating (yet a bit perplexing, I'll get to why later) to see so much retail being added to our small city.

 
L- A concert on the Westin's lawn. (Source) R- One of Bridge Street's office buildings, with the Westin behind it, rises over Research Park Boulevard. (Source)

Bridge Street's retail portion finally opened to the public with much fanfare in early November 2007. It debuted new stores and concepts to both Huntsville and to the state. There was a Monaco Theater, a cineplex with mezzanines in each theater which were reserved only for those aged twenty-one and above. The town center boasted retailers such as Lucky Brand, Anthropologie, Fossil and Juicy Couture. For diners, exclusive restaurants Conner's Seafood, Ketchup and Dulce were added. The brands that Bridge Street seemed to attract to Huntsville were unmatched by most cities of a similar size. And in the middle of it all, were gondola rides; one could savor a romantic dinner or make one of their marriage proposals in the gentle glow of the shoreside Banana Republic.

 
Bridge Street Town Centre's cobblestone bridge. (Source)

It was a bright and crisp Autumn day when I first visited Bridge Street. The guy I was seeing at the time and I walked slowly along the concrete and brick walkway, past landscaped seating areas, ornate water fountains and the double span namesake bridge. The exterior of Anthropologie was covered by vertical gardens, while a carousel spun whimsically next to the gondola docks. They attempted to lend the place a feeling of being in Venice, I suppose, but the result looked about as faux as It's a Small World. But I loved it. Nowhere in the state was anything like it- an open air mall (yes, I know they call it a "lifestyle center," but it falls more along the definition of a mall, a la, well, Ala Moana) where one could wake up in the morning, walk to work then stop and grab a bite to eat at PF Chang's on the way home without ever stepping foot onto a patch of asphalt.


L- Bridge Street Town Centre Mallmanac, ca. 2015. View the full PDF version here.

And the mall hasn't stopped growing. Several years ago, a small power center with retailers such as Sports Authority and Toys R Us opened to the main facility's west. And earlier this year, the mall's new owners announced a major expansion. Finally, that full line department store would be coming, with a flagship location no less. But was it to be Macy's or Nordstrom (both of which had serious discussions with the city), everyone was wondering. The populace was on its retail edge until the big announcement came out that it would be a... Belk. After the initial shock and disappointment, the news only got better. The store would be built on the site of the western lake, which would be drained, the gondola service would become a thing of the past, and Belk would be closing their store at Madison Square as part of the move. Woo-hoo! Progress.


Bridge Street from the sky. (Source)

Bridge Street Town Centre has been quite the success since its opening day, and should only continue to prosper. It seemed the perfect compliment to the slightly less upscale Parkway Place and gave my hometown a retail selection that only much bigger cities can usually boast. Sure, it will be the last nail in the coffin of Madison Square, but that's how retail evolves. And, although I'm no big fan of traditional "lifestyle centers" like Birmingham's The Summit (a glorified strip mall) and Montgomery's The Shoppes at Eastchase, this is the retail trend of the day. And I find Bridge Street to be the perfect combination of the old style, pedestrian focused shopping mall and the new style center.

-UPDATES-
7 January 2015

Bridge Street Town Centre's official website

13 October 2013

All Mallmanac - Windward Mall, Kaneohe, HI

As a kid growing up in Hawai'i, it was a rare occurrence to visit the Windward (eastern) side of the island of O'ahu. And when we did, it was kind of a big deal. From our subdivision on the Leeward (western) side, it was almost two whole hours away! So those ventures were usually reserved for day long beach sojourns to Bellows or for the occasional field trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Therefore, during the three years that both I and Windward Mall coexisted on that speck of a landmass, I don't recall ever having gone there. In fact, I don't even recall ever having any knowledge of the place. And I had no need to; Pearlridge Center was the entire shopping world to me.

 
L- Windward Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2010. View the full PDF version here.
R- Windward Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

It wasn't until 1993 during my freshman year at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa when I finally got the chance to partake in the pleasures of O'ahu's newest traditional shopping mall. Against the backdrop of the dramatic cliffs of the Ko'olau Mountains in about as suburban a setting as can be found in Honolulu County, I stepped off of The Bus and walked through the foyer of the whitewashed, double tiered retail facility. Inside was a treasure trove of early eighties design madness, from the burnt red clay tiles to the hanging planters to globe shaped lighting sconces. I loved it. And it remained this brooding, Allison Reynolds of a mall all the way until the mid-2000s.

 
L- Windward Mall in the early nineties. R- Windward Mall in 2012. Borders is now Sports Authority.

Windward Mall opened in the city of Kaneohe in 1982, completely under my blissful radar as I spent my seven year-old days hunting bullfrogs and watching airplanes land in Ewa Beach. Originally, the state's only extant department store names occupied all three anchor spots, JCPenney, Liberty House and Sears. Windward saw very few changes until the late nineties and early 2000s when JCPenney exited all of their locations in the islands, was replaced with a Signature Theaters and Borders and Liberty House was taken over by Macy's.


Windward Mall from Hawai'i's clear, blue sky. (Source)

It wasn't until 2006 when the darker tones were removed for the more contemporary colors the mall sees today. But its large center court and signature wind wheel layout remain. On my next trip to Hawai'i, a definite trip to Windward, after a twenty-five year absence, will surely be a priority.

Windward Mall's official website

No Supply, No Demand - Hickory Hollow Mall, Antioch, TN

Nashville has always been a city that I loved. In fact, if I were ever to return to the south, outside of my hometown of Huntsville, Nashville would be the only other place where I would want to live. Many a night my friends and I would take the northward drive for Nashville over the larger alternative of Atlanta. I really loved downtown and the west end near Vanderbilt. But, despite being in close proximity to Nashville International Airport, a must see on almost every trip, I think we only stopped by Hickory Hollow Mall once or twice. The impression the bi-level structure always gave was one of conformity; nothing groundbreaking or memorable was encased underneath its high ceilings and within its wide concourses. Just names and faces that could be seen at any number of the nation's mid market shopping mall.

 
Hickory Hollow Mall Mallmanac, ca. 1998. View the full PDF version here.

Hickory Hollow Mall opened in 1978 among Nashville's growing southeastern neighborhoods. A fully two-tiered facility, it opened with Sears, Castner-Knott and Cain Sloan as anchors. In 1982, a JCPenney and rechristened its accompanying wing were added. Then, in 1991, after Dillard's had taken over the Cain Sloan space, they expanded by adding a new structure to the flanking side of their old box, while their previous square footage was converted into mall shops. The mall kept this footprint up to the bitter end.


Hickory Hollow Mall in the late nineties.

Even with Castner-Knott's being taken over first by Proffitt's then Macy's, the mall trudged along through the eighties and the nineties as king of its trade area. But changes were coming, and they were rather abrupt. The first anchor to go was JCPenney in 2006, followed by Dillard's in 2008. Smaller stores started exiting in droves, being supplanted by either perpetually drawn gates or local, off brand stores. The final stake through Hickory Hollow's heart was Sears announcement of their impending closure in 2011, while Macy's made their proposed exit public just a few weeks later.


The mall in the late 2000s. Notice that JCPenney and Dillard's have already departed.

Despite being left with only a junior anchor (Electronics Express) and a few dozen shops, the mall is in the midst of a redevelopment. The Dillard's has been turned into a branch of the Nashville State Community College while the Nashville-Davidson government has converted the old JCPenney into office space. The former inline square footage was purchased by a local entrepreneur and was recently rechristened as the Global Mall at the Crossings. The upper level is intended for local stores with an ethnic flair while the bottom level is reserved for more traditional tenants. Though they claim to have around 60 spaces leased with Hispanic, African and Middle Eastern influences, the old Hickory Hollow still seems unable to attract those national names essential to most major shopping malls' long term success.


Hickory Hollow Mall aerial. (Source)

Anyone who has followed the retail industry as close as we do knows that this type of venture is risky at best, financial suicide at worst. Very few older shopping malls have successfully pulled off this type of transition. But the mall's new owners point to the success of nearby 100 Oaks Mall, which has seen multiple conversions and now serves as a satellite facility for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The success of 100 Oaks, however, is rarely repeated when looking at the nation as a whole, so the possibility of its happening two times within the same city is rather unlikely. But we'll have to wait and see. And, with my being the mall enthusiast that I am, I know that I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Global Mall at the Crossing's official website

12 October 2013

Extant Assets - Lenox Square, Atlanta, GA

Back down south and in my younger days, Atlanta was the place to go whenever we wanted to get away from our everyday existence and have some real fun. Living just about two hours away in Huntsville, Alabama, it was never more than just one spontaneous suggestion away. On a whim, a group of us in the midst of another boring afternoon would just up and go. Our lack of funds, planning or sense be damned! It really helped that gas was only around one dollar a gallon at the time...

Our preferred way to make our entrance into the Big A was always from the west on Interstate 20. It was definitely the most dramatic way to enter the city; before passing the hulking steel roller coasters of Six Flags Over Georgia or the depressing projects of west Atlanta, there was the descent down an incline just at the Douglas County line. And when the ridge was crested just before the descent, the full Atlanta skyline would reveal itself in all of its New South glory, more often than not shrouded in the dense haze of another humid southeastern summer afternoon. But that was of no concern. We were about to make our entrance into the big city, where a full day of spotting airplanes ceaselessly move into and out of Hartsfield International, cruising the sidewalks of Midtown and Piedmont park and dining at some mediocre chain at Lenox Square was surely to commence.

 
L- The Lenox Square nameplate greets us on a visit in 2003. R- Some of Buckhead's high-rises surrounding Lenox Square.

Lenox Square was a must do on just about every trip to the ATL. Our sojourn would more often than not happen at the end of the day, when the relentless sun and stifling humidity became more than we could bear. Usually, we'd park our vehicle somewhere downtown and just ride MARTA (the city's heavy rail subway system) to the hulking enclosed facility just a few stops north of Midtown. Located amongst an extensive collection of high-rises along Peachtree Road, Lenox had quite the monumental profile. After a quick exit from the Lennox Station and all of its homelesses, it was just a short walk across busy Lenox Road. And from there, the main entrance was framed by two glass towers, rising like silent and glowing sentinels ready to greet us upon our arrival. Just inside the entrance was a large, multi-level lobby with not much more than a set of escalators that readily delivered us upward to what was, at the time, one of the most thrilling shopping experiences that I had ever had.

 
Lenox Square Mallmanac, ca. 2003. View the full PDF version here.

We'd browse all of the stores we couldn't afford, cruise the waiters we could never have and lived, at least for one evening, in a manner we never could back home in Huntspatch. The first Neiman Marcus I ever visited was at Lenox, as was the first time I ever ate at California Pizza Kitchen. The setting of the latter place was much more profound than their menu offerings, as it sat right in the center of a large open atrium, with three levels of people watching to keep one's mind off of their bland recipes. It really was quite the sight.

 
 
TL- The Rich's name, now gone forever. TR- On this visit, the Macy's sign was being removed to be replaced with Bloomingdale's. BL- The CPK-trium. BR- My first Neiman Marcus.

Lenox Square has quite the history behind it. It opened on August 3, 1959 with nearly 800,000 square feet of space (an absolute monster for its time) and with the anchors Rich's, Davison's, a Colonial Stores Supermarket and a Kresge five and dime. From the very beginning, it featured three levels named The Mall, The Plaza and The Market. In 1970, the facility was fully enclosed while a new wing and an attached Neiman Marcus joined the line up. Years later, its first anchor change came in 1985 as Macy's merged with Davison's before the latter name, an Atlanta legacy, was replaced completely by the former in 1986. Eventually, the original Macy's was converted to a Bloomingdale's while the former Rich's became Macy's.

 
L- Lenox Square in the late 1990s. R- Lenox Square in 2012.

What amazes me about Lenox and this market is that even though the mall contains outlets such as Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Ermenegildo Zegna, it is still considered mid-market, especially when put up against its even more upscale neighbor, Phipps Plaza. Personally, I always preferred Lenox Square anyway, even when no longer a poor college student and with gas prices rising to upwards of three dollars a gallon. It was worth the trip, if for nothing more than its diverse selection of stores. In fact, in the early 2000s, a Christmas trip to Lenox became an annual event.


Lenox Square from the air. (Source)

I'll never forget the impression that I had of Lenox Square all of those years ago as I walked into that place for the first time on that cold December evening with the JW Marriott rising just to my side. I remained in a state of awe from the moment we first met until back on the platform ready to board the next MARTA train for the mass transit trip back downtown. And though I've since walked the corridors of much newer and more extensive facilities such as the SM Megamall and The Mall of America, I've yet to experience that feeling of wonder and awe, to the same intensity, come over me again.

Lenox Square's official website

6 October 2013

All Mallmanac - Regency Square, Arlington, FL

It was late 1984 and we were still living in Hawai'i, but, as with all good things, our time there was coming to an end. They would be transferring my father to a different Naval base early the following year. Exactly where, we didn't know. My dad's definite first choice also seemed the most likely at the time; Mayport Naval Station just outside of Jacksonville, Florida. My father had grown up just to the southwest of that location, in Orlando, and much of his family still resided within an hour or two of Florida's largest city. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. In the end, we were actually moved to the Norfolk area of Virginia. But, who knows, had things been different, Regency Square in the Jacksonville suburb of Arlington could have been a Mall of My Youth.

 
Regency Square Mallmanac, ca. YEAR. View the full PDF version here.

And what could have been one of my childhood homes ended up only being one of the big cities we whizzed through during the long drive down I-95 between Virginia Beach and Winter Park. Besides those quick treks, a school field trip to Saint Augustine and a stop at their airport, Jacksonville just really never registered on my radar. Strange how fate works. And I would have never known about this mall's existence had we once not stopped at a welcome center just past the Georgia state line where I managed to get my hands on this mallmanac. Unfortunately, this is one of those malls to which I've never been.

 
L- Regency Square in the late eighties and early nineties. R- Regency Square as of this writing.

Regency Square opened in 1967 in Jacksonville's then fast growing eastern suburb of Arlington. It debuted with three anchors, Ivey's, JCPenney and May-Cohen. In 1981, an expansion called the West Mall was added to the open end of May-Cohen, effectively doubling the size of Regency. Along with it, a Sears and an expanded and relocated Ivey's joined the mix. Over time, the May-Cohen became a Maison-Blanche, then Gayfer's and is presently a Belk. Dillard's took over the Ivey's nameplate before moving to their present location, while the older pad was eventually occupied by Montgomery Ward. That location was shuttered with the chain's liquidation, and, besides a transient tenant or two, remains dark today. As is the usual case, Sears and JCPenney remain the same.


Regency Square from above. (Source)

Regency Square is the metro area's oldest shopping mall still functioning as originally intended. But as the surrounding demographics have changed, so has its success. Despite being the sole enclosed retail destination on the city's eastern flank, it seems to be running into trouble that has only been exacerbated by its age and reputation. I surely hope it does manage to survive, but reality may soon dictate that I include this mall under the heading No Supply, No Demand

Regency Square's official website

29 September 2013

Extant Assets - South Hill Mall, Puyallup, WA

One of the many quirky things that I've always loved about the Seattle and Puget Sound region of western Washington is all of the out of the ordinary place names. There are settlements with the monickers Cle Elum, Enumclaw, Index and Mukilteo; Skykomish, Tulalip and Issaquah. And in the middle of it all is the state capital with, perhaps, the most out of place name of all, Olympia. Over the years, I've become pretty well versed at correctly pronouncing each of these vales, but I've just never seemed to articulate the name of the home of South Hill Mall, Puyallup, on a consistent basis. I mean, is it Pew-yallup? Pee-wallup? It just doesn't roll off of the tongue for some reason. At least they have a pleasant and prosperous, if not cookie cutter, indoor retail facility.

 
South Hill Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

One of the things that struck me about South Hill Mall was how far out in the sticks it was. From neighboring Tacoma, we went down a highway whose environs became more and more rural as we passed. Just as the banjo music began playing in my head, we turned off of that highway and onto a two lane country route surrounded by rolling green hills and bored looking livestock. Then we happened upon a small village before crossing paths with an impressive looking roller coaster and ascending a hill. Then BOOM- we were back in the city. And there next to a spontaneously appearing limited access freeway and surrounded by acres of peripheral retail was a sprawling, one level facility straight out of the eighties. Our back country adventure had led us to a mall.

 
 
TL- The mall's theater entrance abuts the passing freeway and almost no parking. TR- Macy's on the western expansion. BL- Sears looks even more plain when viewed next to the much more elaborate Macy's. BR- The former Mervyn's store in the original section of South Hill is now JCPenney.

The first thing that couldn't be missed was a two storey, grey-toned Macy's that towered over the rest of the single level, white-washed building. Then there was a small JCPenney, next to a less small JCPenney which were both tucked away just to the right. I decided to take a stroll around the facility's exterior and it was then that I noticed just how spread out South Hill really is. The walk seemed to take forever. After passing the twin Penny's, there was a Dick's, then a Target, followed by movie theaters with an elaborate glass entrance hidden in the back of the facility, before some strange unattached shed came into view neighboring a bland, completely unremarkable Sears.

 
South Hill Mall's interior. Or is it Northgate? Or Everett Mall?

The interior consisted of contemporary stonework, neutral wood tones and gold accents, pretty much the template of other malls in this area. I'm wondering if this scheme is a Pacific Northwest thing or is this palette nationwide? Kind of like the use of pastels and neon in the nineties. Anyway, the most curious thing that I noticed is that this is the only single level mall I've ever been to with a graded parking lot. The eastern two-thirds of the structure is higher up, while the west third slopes downward with the hill, giving the interior in that corridor the appearance of a gently rising mountain trail, albeit one with Zales Jewelers and Aéropostales in the place of route markers, towering evergreens and Sasquatch.

 
L- South Hill Mall in the early 2000s. R- South Hill Mall today, minus Target's ET.

South Hill Mall opened in 1988 in the South Sound town of Puyallup abutting highway 512. It originally opened with only three anchors, Mervyn's, Lamont's and Target, and with only about one half of its present enclosed area. In 1994, the west wing was added along with the anchors JCPenney, Sears and The Bon Marché. In later years, Old Navy was added while Office Max came and went. The Bon Marché became The Bon-Macy's before converting to a full Macy's while the Lamont's first became Gottschalk's before closing completely. A Linen's N Things and Circuit City split its space and after each hit the financial rocks, Dick's took over. Mervyn's eventually shuttered its doors along with the rest of the chain, allowing JCPenney to double their footprint from their rather small original location.


South Hill Mall aerial. (Source)

South Hill Mall is a nice little place and continues to perform very well. It is one of only two enclosed retail facilities in suburban Seattle-Tacoma's Pierce County, so I don't expect it to go anywhere soon. People these days seem to love their malls with plenty of Lane Bryants', Sbarros' and minimal personality, ensuring South Hill's survival for decades to come.

South Hill Mall's official website