22 May 2013

No Supply, No Demand - Bellevue Center, Nashville, TN

Back when I was in college during the early nineties, a good buddy of mine from the western outskirts of Nashville loved to brag about the big, new rich folks mall that had recently opened near his exurban subdivision. Even on road trips to Huntsville's Madison Square and the Cool Springs Galleria in the Music City's southern suburbs, we all had to endure constant comments about how much better the Bellevue Center was. It was all Bellevue this and Bellevue that. You would have thought there was something Taj-Mahal-ish about the place. He had set some seriously elevated expectations, perhaps unattainably so.

 
Bellevue Center Mallmanac, ca. 1998. View the full PDF version here.

It was 1998 before I finally did make it out to see the Bellevue Center. I was bewildered at how far it was located outside of town and away from peripheral commercial development. It seemed to me that they built an entire super-regional complex on the mere speculation that supporting growth and residential development would follow. But it never did. Not in proximity to Bellevue, anyway. Unlike the phenomenal growth that came in the wake of Cool Springs' construction in Franklin, the sphere surrounding Bellevue was stagnant. The surrounding streets held sparse traffic and close-in parking spaces were easy to find outside any of the mall entrances, neither being very encouraging signs for a new retail facility. The building's interior was bright and cavernous, but also quite empty. Most of the spaces, however, were still occupied and there didn't appear to be any imminent problems on that first visit. I could have never predicted the sharp decline of the mall that was to take place in just a few years.


The Bellevue Center during better days. (Source)

The Bellevue Center opened in 1990 with anchors Castner Knott and Dillard's along with a couple of empty, grassy pads where two additional anchors could be built. The facility was home to many new and exclusive retailers to the Nashville area such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Williams-Sonoma. One of the pads was slated for the metropolitan area's first Macy's, with its famous star logo even painted on the spot where its mall entrance would open onto the second level. But the store was never built. By the late nineties, although a Sears had been added, the exodus of those exclusive retailers had already begun. Castner Knott became Proffit's then, for a short time, Macy's before closing in 2009, two years after Dillard's had shuttered their space. The mall concourses closed in 2008 and, as of this writing, Sears is the only business still in operation.


The Bellevue Center before the anchors started closing.

The growth that the developers hoped would bolster the Bellevue Center did eventually come to Nashville, just not in their anticipated locale. The more upscale names gravitated toward The Mall at Green Hills, located much closer to the Music City's center of population, while Cool Springs became the top regional draw. Bellevue, with its poor location and abysmal growth, was pushed out of the crowded marketplace as there was really no need for its continued existence. Since its closing, many ideas have been considered for the hulking facility, though no plan has achieved a consensus. All that can be agreed upon is that the complex in its present state is viable neither in that location nor in today's retail environment. And with the economy still in recovery mode, it's probable that we still won't see any investment made or progress initiated anytime in the near future.

I've always pondered what my buddy's thoughts on the Bellevue Center would be today.

Bellevue Center on Deadmalls.com
Bellevue Center on Wikipedia

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