9 May 2013

Extant Assets - Parkway Place, Huntsville, AL

Parkway Place is a unique, well, place. Usually when an enclosed shopping mall is demolished and replaced with another retail facility, that replacement would be in a different format such as a power or a "lifestyle" center. Parkway Place was a rarity in that one fully enclosed shopping center was completely demolished and replaced with another fully enclosed building.

The Parkway Place Grand Opening pull-out from The Huntsville Times, 2002. View the full PDF version here.

Parkway Place was also one of the last retail facilities to be built in the United States as a fully traditional shopping mall. By that, I mean that it had no junior or big box anchors, only full line department stores, and no outdoor elements of any kind. All stores (until Carrabba's was added in the mid 2000's) were accessible from the interior concourse. Parkway Place was also built at the right moment. Had it been conceived just a year later than it was, I'm sure it would have been built as another lazy outdoor "lifestyle" center. With it's perfect timing, the Huntsville market got one hell of a retail gem; and one of the last of its kind to be built.

L- The dome takes shape during the mall's construction with Dillard's in the background. R- The already open Parisian waits for the rest of the mall to follow its lead.

Parkway Place is the result of a bullet well dodged. In the nineties, a huge new mall called Green Cove was proposed for extreme south Huntsville. Very extreme, far from the metro's center of population. Had the 1.5 million square foot facility been built, Parkway City Mall would have surely died a quick and unceremonious death and would probably have been replaced with a Wal-Mart Supercenter or some other abomination. Then, with the collapse of the economy in the 2000s, I don't see how Green Cove, with it's isolated location abutting the Redstone Arsenal and with the Tennessee River just to its south, leaving minimal room for growth in the vacinity, would have survived. I think it's not crazy to say that, by now, we would have lost both Parkway City and Green Cove. Huntsville's retail market would have been glutted with vacancies.

L- Popular Parisian is open for business. R- One of the rear entrances to the mall takes shape.

Parkway Place was built as a replacement for the venerable old Parkway City Mall, a shopping center that had occupied the site since 1957. Even though the former center had been experiencing years of decline, its anchors McRae's, Parisian and Dillard's were still strong performers and the location was unbeatable. Parkway Place was designed to be a middle market to upscale center, bringing many retailers previously not located in Huntsville, with a few opening their first locations in the state. Because of the site's limited acreage, it would be built with two levels and a parking deck on the Memorial Parkway side. Its compact footprint gave it the appearance of urban centers usually found in larger cities, like The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville or Pearlridge Center (minus the monorail) in Hawai'i.

Parkway Place Mallmanac ca. 2004. View the full PDF version here.

This was the first time I was ever able to witness a mall's being built in every stage from the ground breaking to the grand opening. It was built in a couple of phases, which allowed Parkway City legacies Parisian and Pccadilly Cafeteria to operate without interruption. The northern third of the mall, where Montgomery Ward once stood, was demolished first. In its place, the new Parisian was built along with a small section of the mall for Piccadilly. The section of the car park immediately fronting Parisian was also built. Once those businesses opened, the rest of the mall was shuttered, demolished, and the balance of the mall was erected. This included a new Dillard's on the south end and the majority of the deck. It's also apparent when looking on the flanking side of the mall that there is space for a third anchor to be added just off of center court. As successful as the mall is, however, I doubt that one may ever go up. What with the economy the way it is and all, as well as anchor consolidation.

L- Finally, the mall has opened! A view of its signature dome and Dillard's. R- Parisian before its upmarket image was spoiled in a buyout by Belk.

As soon as the copper dome was installed on the main entrance, it became a landmark in Huntsville. I watched intently as the mall took shape, anticipating its opening with the glee of a child or a weird retail nerd. I'd shop at Parisian and look forlornly at the wall which would one day be their mall entrance and just imagine how magnificant it would be when the brand new mall taking shape behind that barrier finally opened. Then one day, about a month before the official opening of the mall, the sheetrock blocking the view of the mall's concourse from Parisian was removed. What I saw through that glass was a beautiful and unspoiled combination of muted earth tones with red highlights, carpeted floor sections and inviting soft seating areas. It was exceptional.

L- Parkway Place's changes since opening. So sad that Parisian is gone. R- Parkway Place from the sky. (Source)

The addition of Parkway Place and its unique retailers was a game changer in Huntsville. Madison Square Mall lost its status as the market's commercial juggernaut while the smaller yet more impressive facility stole shoppers in droves. It instantly became my preferred place to shop, and I was definitely not alone. Since its opening, another new mall has been added to Huntsville, the open-air Bridge Street Town Centre, and while Madision Square continues to spiral downward, it seems that the two newer centers coexist nicely. And I really hope it stays that way.

Parkway Place's official website

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