26 May 2013

Malls of My Own - Madison Squared

How do you solve a problem like Madison Square Mall?

Huntsville, Alabama's Madison Square Mall is one of three facilities that I consider to be a Mall of My Youth. Through the years, I had envisioned various changes for the 1984 built, 1 million square foot behemoth. These scenarios evolved from being based on what I would have liked to have seen in the market to more realistic reflections of what Madison Square's role should be in the increasingly crowded trade area. At the onset, these modifications involved extensive expansions. But as the years passed and the center's significance diminished while newer competitors found their niche, the revisions became more focused on right-sizing the mall into market relevance. Following is a series highlighting the diversity of these conceptions, titled Madison Squared.


Madison Squared - Version 2.1

This version was produced in the mid to late nineties, just after shopping malls started publishing their mall layouts on this new-fangled invention called the internet. I initially conceived this rather ambitious addition of a new wing attached to the mall's southwestern corridor, location of the food court. I envisioned it as three levels encompassing two full-line department stores and the existing free standing Regal Cinemas located in the parking lot. The unlikely anchors were to be Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, while the rest of the facility was to be divided into a couple of themed area. The forward facing, bi-level wing was to be the Entertainment Destination with tenants such as Hard Rock Cafe, a Universal Amphitheater and Regal. The three level portion, dubbed The Catwalk, would be devoted to fashion with names like Bernini, l.Occitane, Christian Bernard and even The Fashion Cafe gracing its corridors.

Madison Squared - Version 2.2

In this version, produced in the late nineties, I had decided to lessen the upscale aspects so prominently integrated into my previous vision and exchange them for an even less likely brand ever to be seen in Huntsville, Swedish furniture outlet IKEA. The additional corridor would still be attached to the food court wing, but would only be of a bi-level build. Not to be extended to the extant Regal Cinemas, that facility would instead be incorporated into an open-air element of shops and restaurants to be constructed in its vicinity. Also, with this being just after Parisian's and McRae's addition to parent company Saks' portfolio, I had the parent company taking over that space. I still had to throw a little luxury somewhere into the mix.

Madison Squared - Version 3.1

With this version, first conceived in the mid-2000s, I began taking into consideration all of the changes taking place within the Huntsville retail environment as well as in the economy as a whole. Parkway Place had stolen a large chunk of the market from Madison Square and a full recovery seemed unlikely. In response to these new realities, this was the first time that I actually decreased the center's footprint. First, the vacant space formerly occupied by Pizitz and McRae's would be altered to hold existing tenant Steve & Barry's on the bottom level while the upper level would be converted into an outdoor plaza. With the past location of both Yeilding and Steve & Barry's now vacant, the food court would be moved to that much more visible central location. With the original food court vacant, that entire wing would be demolished and replaced with a new cineplex, which would be followed by the razing of the existing and outdated Regal Cinemas on its mall outlot.


Madison Squared - Version 3.2

This version followed closely the template of the previous design, but with a bit more detail. Encompassing the new food court location would be a front facing atrium and elaborate entryway element, giving Madison Square a new edifice to reflect its repositioned status. A Regal cineplex would still be added to the food court's former location, but it would be joined by a selection of several full-service restaurants. The area that at one time housed McRae's upper level would be home to several more eateries and, owing to that structure's location abutting one of the mall's grade changes, would provide direct car park access on one side with a mezzanine and overlook on the other. In the middle, a specially designed water feature would serve as the focal point.


Madison Squared - Version 3.3

This rendition made a few further enhancements to version 3.1's original design. The adjustments to the food court and to the neighboring outdoor plaza next to the grade change would still stand, but the most significant alteration would be a greater portion of the original structure's being "de-malled." The western extremity of the enclosed corridor, presently standing at only one level between McRae's and Sears, would be completely eliminated. Its replacement would be an outdoor collection of more shops and entertainment venues, and its cobblestone walkways would unite the previously disconnected restaurants of the cineplex corridor with those of the upper Pizitz plaza into one full promenade. The facades of this addition would be themed in an urban, New York City fashion with a moniker along the lines of "On Broadway" or "Times Squared" attached. Why this motif? Well, when I first heard the name Madison Square, I immediately thought of the famous sports arena in midtown Manhattan. Given this previous association, I thought that a cosmopolitan look would really work with the newly built element.


Madison Squared - Version 4.1

This latest version was designed very recently, taking into account the further changes occurring at Huntsville's oldest extant mall. The old Pizitz/McRae's space still sits empty and CBL, the property's owners, have announced that they plan on subdividing the two tiers into office space, which is just as much of a sign of impending doom as a Big Lots or Burlington Coat Factory's being invited to the party. The central upper level area, still vacant after Steve & Barry's liquidation in 2008, is slated for the same transition. Dillard's has downgraded their store into a clearance center, sealing off the lower level in the process, a sign that they no longer hold any long term commitment. And Belk has announced their intention to exit Madison Square after a new flagship location is opened at the nearby Bridge Street Town Centre in 2014. These changes will leave Madison Square with only two full line anchors and little reason for the few remaining national brands to renew their leases.

In this most radical redesign, almost the entire facility between Sears and JCPenney would be demolished. What is envisioned to be built in its place would be based on the original landscaping surrounding the mall. The rear car park is graded upward so that it directly meets the second floor entrances while the front end is lowered to be consistent with the bottom level. With these elements already in place, a double line of shops would be constructed on the first tier that would be facing one another across an open-air common area roughly following the footprint of the original building. The lower level of the old McRae's would remain but be be modified to house a junior anchor such as Forever 21 or Nordstrom Rack. The upper level would contain only a single line of similarly themed outdoor facing storefronts, all opening toward the rear car park already graded up to their abutting walkways. The Dillard's would be removed for a state of the art Regal Cinemas to replace their obsolete and much smaller facility on the parking lot's outer fringes. The old home of Parisian would be completely eliminated, reducing the number of anchor spots from five to an easier to maintain two, while the number of smaller units would be decreased to 70 from 130.

I sincerely hope that something similar to version 4.1 is implemented, as I would hate to see another shopping mall be completely eliminated from Huntsville's retail landscape. It has become painfully obvious that, like Parkway City Mall, The Mall and the Heart of Huntsville Mall before it, Madison Square cannot survive in its present state, offices or no offices. And while two viable anchors and a few national names continue to be devoted to the mall's future, I hope that CBL will show some of their own commitment and invest in the future of the only retail facility built in the twentieth century to still be standing in the Rocket City.

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