Monday, July 3, 2006

North Point Mall: Alpharetta, GA

The story of most malls these days is that they are either powerhouses, monolithic sterile shopping centers or archaic dumps that need a wrecking ball in the eyes of the average person. In rarer cases, though, are great malls that are taken totally for granted. This is the case with North Point Mall. Opened in early 1993, North Point Mall was awe-inspiring when it opened. Its intricate truss workings and showcase of light was almost angelic in appearance. It was also massive: the first five anchor mall in Georgia with a pad for a sixth anchor. In fact, it was the largest mall ever to be in the state and one of the very largest in the nation at that point.


Looking down the escalators in the south court. Dillard's is on the right.

North Point Mall struggled for traffic in its early years even though it was situated very conveniently off of GA 400. Even though the entire road network of Alpharetta was reconfigured for the mall, North Fulton County was still pretty rural when it was built, and north of the mall livestock was still rivaling people in numbers. In addition, much older and darker Perimeter gave the mall a run for its money when in 1993 they completed extensive renovations, adding the state's first Nordstrom. Nevertheless, North Point Mall had quite a few unique touches. The most amazing was the Rich's which opened at the mall. Atlanta natives were still quite upset about the 1991 closure of Rich's followed by the demolition of the mid-century additions it was most famous for. As a result, Federated Department Stores apparently wanted to give Atlanta an extra special Rich's to make up for it. This Rich's was like no other in design: very elaborate exterior, a "RICHSATLANTA" clock inside and out, commemorative plaques celebrating the history of the store and attention to interior details that made the store on par with the most exclusive stores of the time in design.




Details of the main mall corridor. Note the distinct truss work in the ceiling as well as the deck trusses holding up the crossovers. The last pic shows more detail of the trusswork over one of the walkways. This design is a refreshing change from the way-overdone "galleria" style.



The center court has a humongous pyramidal ceiling basking in more light than any other mall I have visited. On the second photo, note the machinery under the escalator is open to view. All but one escalator has this.

North Point Mall also opened with four other anchors: Lord & Taylor, Mervyn's, JCPenney and Sears. Of those listed, only JCPenney and Sears remain at the mall today. Macy's, then under ownership of RH Macy, was the intended sixth anchor. However, the bankruptcy of RH Macy in 1994 followed by the acquisition by Federated ended any possibility of that. The food court also offered something special in its classic carousel and outdoor sitting area (gone today). Outside, the mall featured the latest in architectural design abandoning the clean lines of the modern era and bathing the mall inside and out in white with touches of green and gold trim as well as lots of palm trees. Also unique are the escalators, whose inner workings are left to view: a treatment I have never seen elsewhere. This is also in fact the whitest mall I have ever known, invoking either something heavenly or Florida. Indeed, tropical-themed architecture was in vogue in the late 80's and early 90's.



Escalators in the south court. Dillard's is on the left in the second photo.

As North Fulton and nearby Gwinnett and Cherokee grew like absolute madness in the 90's, North Point found its own. In 1998, the mall was at its peak of success with six anchors and a parking deck. Offices and retail sprung up like crazy during this time, and Alpharetta became the most prosperous area in all of Georgia with the city limits expanding continuously so that the former county seat of Milton County completely shook off its forgotten history of desperate poverty. By 1998, the malls anchor lineup was slightly altered when Mervyn's left and Dillard's arrived. Mervyn's closed all Georgia stores in 1995. While others were replaced with JCPenney, North Point already had JCPenney so newcomer Parisian from Birmingham took advantage of the slot. Parisian was rapidly expanding in Atlanta in that time attempting to make up for the loss of a decent local store. Dillard's, also arriving in 1995, was new to Georgia, and North Point was their first store. Indeed, Dillard's went all out to create a very elegant looking store with three levels absolutely loaded with merchandise.




North court is equally as impressive. The food court flanks the west side while JCPenney enters on the east side. A Starbucks is located at the base of the elevator. The mall has two elevators: one in the north court and one in center court.

1999 was the beginning of some difficulties for North Point. Mall of Georgia in Buford was built then, and the opening took the title from North Point as Georgia's largest mall. From there, North Point would have joined the rank and file of malls if it had not been for the continual rapid growth of the area. In fact, if the area had not grown as expected, it would have struggled greatly during that time. The plan to open up an upscale shopping mall in Forsyth County, first announced in 2002, was not a welcome event for the mall. Fortunately, every attempt to start the project has been hit by an economic downturn and a huge lifestyle center project just to the north also looks to have been put on hiatus. Nevertheless, no major changes would come until 2004.



Featured in the food court is this carousel. The food court itself (shown more in the second photo, was extensively renovated in 2008 with a more elaborate and colorful decor than existed originally. New restrooms were installed on what was previously an outside sitting area.

In 2004, the department store industry started into major upheaval. Consolidation fever was in the air, and local department stores right and left suddenly disappeared from the landscape. Rich's was the first to go, rebranded as Macy's in early 2005, bringing Macy's to the mall after all. Unfortunately, this was the legacy Rich's store, so the conversion left a not-so-pretty sign on the outside that does not properly fit the architecture. Fortunately, one of the "RICHSATLANTA" clocks as well as the Rich's murals remain. It is about all that remains of Rich's today aside from the labelscar on the abandoned Cobb Center store. Also in 2005, Lord & Taylor closed every one of the Georgia locations which were located not only there, but also Mall of Georgia and Phipps.



Mall directory laying out this very large mall better than I can describe it followed by a pic in the center court of the escalator with one of those mall "street signs".

If that wasn't enough, Parisian was bought out by Belk in 2006 creating a fiasco for the mall. Suddenly the mall had two vacancies as Belk decided to close the Parisian at the mall instead of simply converting it. Instead, they reopened the Belk store in the old Lord & Taylor later in the year. What was worse is that the Lord & Taylor was not modified at all by Belk, and Belk entering the mall took the upscale wing of the mall and tossed it in the toilet. Of course, they paid for this move dearly as that store will be closing by Labor Day 2009 after little over two years in business at the mall, leaving two vacancies.



Now-closed Parisian mall entrance and exterior. Parisian here closed in 2006 after being bought out by Belk. This was small, but very nice store inside. The store originally opened as Mervyn's in 1993, but was converted to Parisian in 1996.

The closing of Belk brings up a very signicant point that mall management desperately needs to pay attention to: North Fulton and South Forsyth have money and they want a high-end mall! Much of North Point's traffic is siphoned by Perimeter, Phipps, Lenox and lesser so Mall of Georgia because shoppers want more to offer than the usual middle class fare. That is why Belk failed, and that is also why the owners need to get really serious or this mall will start going downhill. The fact is that if the upscale mall project ever takes off, it will be the death of North Point. It is also a fact that the mall would do MUCH BETTER if they took advantage of the double vacancy and added upscale department stores. A Nordstrom should open in the former Lord & Taylor. This means the entrance should be upgraded (it looks rather 70's) and interior renovated to bring luxury back to this wing. Also, a Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's or Neiman Marcus should open in the old Parisian. It is a junior anchor and perfect for a small-scale concept store. This is an area that can support these stores, and it will make the mall more resistant to competition or gradually failure from poor marketing.




Belk here proved to be short-lived. The store opened in early 2007 and is closing by labor day 2009. This was originally Lord & Taylor and was modified very little from when it was Lord & Taylor. Belk was a poor fit for the mall.



Lord & Taylor opened with the mall in 1993, but then owners May Department Stores pulled the plug on all Georgia locations in 2005. May was poorly operating the storied chain. The store sat vacant for over a year before Belk opened here.

North Point is a beautiful mall, and the renovation to the Food Court is as far as it should go with this mall. Its design was very cutting edge when built, and the mistake of radically altering the mall like many others in the area is strongly discouraged. However, the likelihood of losing anchors in the future should be taken into account. The mall owners should raze any additional anchor space if it closes in lieu of keeping an oversized store. If this happens, this would be a good opportunity for an open-air wing or non-department store such as Dick's Sporting Goods to take the spot.




Mall entrances for Dillard's, Sears and Penney's. The escalators in front of Sears are recent. These replaced escalators that used to be located in the north court in front of the food court.

Also, the blander aspects of the mall need to be addressed. Elaborate fountains and/or waterfalls should be added in the Macy's and Dillard's court with lush vegetation to enhance the mall. The gray floor tiles should also be replaced with green or gold toned marble to liven up and upscale the mall, but nothing else drastic. However, NOTHING should be done to the ceilings or roofs of the mall. This is what makes it special. NOTHING should also be done to the exterior entrances to the mall. They are architectural sound and altering them would clash with the rest of the mall and damage the image. Notes should be taken from North Park Center in Dallas: an extremely successful upscale mall that never altered its original architectural design. If it starts looking old, remember paint does wonders.



Now on the outside, the mall entrances are both very elaborate. The second photo shows the huge pyramidal glass towers and poles for trusses. If not for the clashing American Girl exterior, this would look quite heavenly. These elaborate entrances are irreplaceable.

North Point is still successful today, but the owners need to realize that the closure of Belk and Parisian is a warning sign. As a result, they need to look at the market on how to make it more competive before competition turns their big white mall into a white elephant. They should also make sure that the architecture is maintained as much possible even though a few modifications would be beneficial. The mall is approaching 20 years old in an era when enclosed malls are being assaulted by smaller outdoor shopping centers. This is also the other mall of my high school years, which is why I would like to see the mall preserved as well as improved.

Rich's pics from early 2005 of the legacy store prior to the Macy's conversion are featured a few photos down.



Outside view of anchor stores Sears & Penney's. The Penney's is showing a bit of age on its solid white exterior.


This photo from 2005 is all-inclusive of what is NOT at the mall anymore. Note the Parisian in the background with Rich's further back. Anchors Lord & Taylor, Rich's and Parisian are all gone from the mall. Note the mall's interesting logo.


Rich's mall entrance surrounded by lots of marble. The entrance sign was as beautiful as the exterior. Photo taken January 4, 2005


The opulence in design of this store was unparalleled. Note the vine and trellis in front of the store. The "RICHSATLANTA" clock is in the middle. The sign itself was actually engraved into the structure and required complete replacement of the concrete tiles when changed over. Photo taken January 4, 2005.


Conversion of this store was much more costly than other conversions. The Rich's logo was displayed all over this building, including right over the door. Photo taken January 14, 2005.


What remains are these murals and one clock inside the store. The murals depict the history of Rich's over the years up to when the store opened. They are a beautiful and unique touch. This is just one of them. They are pretty much all that visibly remains of Rich's today. Photo taken January 14, 2005.

21 comments:

  1. I've read in the past that JCPenney was on the way out and that Parisian wanted that store space. Parisian's space is way too small, in my opinion. Then there is the Neiman Marcus rumor that they want in there. Future retail on up 400 might snag them however. I'd like to see Saks get a handle on itself and come there, maybe in the L&T spot, or Nordstrom.... but they are very present in the North metro area because of Phipps and Perimeter.

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  2. Honestly i think that North Point was a bit overshot, and it never seemed to me that the mall was doing as well as everybody wanted to think it was. I remember being there soon after it opened and it was largely void of customers still. With malls in the state they're in, I see the L&T being demolished soon. Six anchors is way too many considering there aren't many department stores left.

    North Point will soon have to face the departure of Parisian and quite possibly either Penney's or Sears. Most likely Parisian will soon be bought out by somebody like Dillard's, which is already at the mall. Also, Penney's is going off-mall in their grand scheme and Sears is looking flaky all the way around. I hear there are plans to do a big overhaul at the mall, but I could not even guess what they are. I've heard it would be like Cumberland.

    In terms of those upscale tenants like Saks, Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom...North Point needs to make a really sweet deal to keep them from anchoring some lifestyle center up closer to Cumming IMO.

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    1. When were these photos taken? I thought Parisian was bought out by Belk in 2006 and closed or coverted in 2007. Check out Von Maur now since Belk closed. Upscale you say??? They now have it! I hope Sears becomes a Nordstrom and Parisian a Neiman Marcus to compete with Von Maur. Since Sears isn't doing well it will most likly close soon. 2013?

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    2. likely. A movie theater is being put at current Parisian.

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  3. I would agree that it always seems much emptier than it should be at North Point.

    And in case you don't know the history of the Parisian at North Point, Todd, it originally was Mervyn's, and when they left Atlanta, Parisian came in. Granted, the store looks a heckuva lot better aesthetically compared to when it was a Mervyn's -- but you're right about the space. I always felt claustrophobic inside that store! It can't be much over -- what, 70k square feet? If that?

    JT -- what would you see replacing L&T? "Lifestyle" type stores, with an open-air type area? Something else? It does seem like a white albatross around the mall's neck.

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  4. My best guess is a lifestyle portion of the mall or dividing it up into smaller anchors, but the former is more likely because the store looks exactly like it was taken straight out of the late 70's, repainted and shined up and dropped into a 90's mall.

    In my opinion, they should tear down the entire mall except for Rich's, Sears, Penney's and Dillard's and make it a lifestyle center. It was too big to start with and I don't see any other way around it. Only problem is...would they build up the east entrance to Rich's to match the rest of the store?

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  5. Since I did this post awhile back, I was wondering with the Parisian closing there what are the plans with the mall? I noted that they were doing work on the Lord & Taylor last time I was there, but I could not figure out what they plan to do. Right now, the mall could go one of two ways: demolish the dead parts or try to lure in the upscale anchors like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus into the two vacant anchors. Also, doesn't Belk want any part of this mall...if so, where would it go? Any word?

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  6. I like North Point. I think it's gotten better and better over the years. (albeit w/ one anchor gone and another on the way out) But I think that J.T.'s theory is right. I think one day, the L&T space will become a Nordstrom or a Bloomingdale's and the Mervyn's/Parisian space will become a Saks Fifth Avenue or a Neiman-Marcus or it will be cleared out for "Lifestyle" space. With all the rich people who live up that way (it's like Buckhead north), those stores would do great at NP.

    I remember the days when this mall had the only Dillard's in town and we would take the trip rather often up that way to shop there. (I'm a Stonecrest/South DeKalb local) Now that there's one @ Stonecrest and Perimeter (where I really do most of my shopping, along w/ Lenox) among other malls, I don't really go up to NP as often as I used to. But I have been there recently and the line-up of stores is just amazing. They recently opened up a J.Crew and and Apple Store and the Record and Movie Store's become a Pottery Barn.

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  7. Does it have a Nordstrom?

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  8. I first went in that mall when Parisian has already moved into the old Mervyn's and since I'd never heard of that mall before, I thought it was brand new at the time and the Parisian was an original and could only think, "Why in the world did Parisian build such a ridiculously small store here?"

    I liked this mall when I first visited it, and remember it having a store that sold audio and video equipment (TVs, audio components), but it didn't last long. It seemed that in the later 90s when I went there, the stores that made the mall seem unique to me had gone. This was during the era when all of the young men's clothing stores that used to be in malls were closing and being replaced by a bunch of different stores selling boring jeans and khakis.

    I'm not sure if I've been to this mall since the 1990s. For me, coming in from the west or northwest when visiting, was in an inconvenient location. Once you get too far up US 19 (GA 400), there's no easy way to get back to the northwest since most roads are lousy and 2 lane and go through the mountains, making for some tough driving. Georgia badly needs an east-west freeway going from, say, Rome to Canton to Gainesville to Athens.

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  9. My beef with North Point overall has always been store selection. I failed to mention in my post that it is not just department stores that are the problem, but also the fact that inline tenants are VERY lacking. This seems to be a problem with GGP across the board, which might explain their bankruptcy. How about stuff like candy stores, pet stores and stuff that is fun for more than just clothing shoppers? I at least give Simon credit for having some variety in their malls.

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  10. Well Belk closing is a surprise to me. I didn't think they would do that poorly at NP...any chance of this spilling over into the other former Parisian real estate, or do you think this is more of a one-off thing? Then again, they did already have stores in Cumming and Canton before the buyout...

    But back to the $64,000 question: what do do about the two (!) empty spots? With both Nordstrom and Bloomie's at Phipps/Lenox, Perimeter, and a Nordstrom at the Mall of Georgia, is there capacity for another one of those at NP? Does Neiman's have any cities outside of Texas with more than one store? (Chicago?)

    I just don't quite know what to do about it. Maybe getting rid of the Mervyn's and replacing it with Dick's or REI would be the best, along with a few upper crust restaurants.

    Hey, what about adding a Steve and Bar...um, I mean a Bosc...oh never mind.

    I never did particularly like the NP Rich's...inside or out.

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  11. I was somewhat surprised on Belk pulling the plug on the NorthPoint store at this time, but Belk has several closeby locations, and the Mall of Georgia Belk is also in a fromer Lord&Taylor. In addition to Cumming and Canton Belks, there is a Norcross location, Gainesville and Snellville and a newly opened location in Winder. Belk doesn't really have anything to stand out from Macy's and Dillard's and the malls with the 3 of these stores risk losing one of these anchors.
    That would put Mall of Georgia and ArborPlace Mall in the same conundrum with a trifecta of mid-tier department stores.

    Where NorthPoint differs from the other 2 malls is its demographics that could support a Nordstrom, Saks, Bloomingdales or Neiman-Marcus. With Bloomies at Lenox and Perimeter, is Atlanta ready for a 3rd location? Nordstrom is already at Mall of Georgia, Perimeter and Phipps Plaza all within the drawing area of NorhtPoint. Saks and Neiman-Marcus only have 1 store in the Atlanta area, so NorthPoint could try to lure one of these for a 2nd location in the old Lord&Taylor/Belk location.

    Most likely, GGP will do a lifestyle makeover to a portion of this mall as they did at Perimeter and Cumberland with some success.
    Luring a big box is another possibility, but finding one that's not already in North Fulton and doesn't weaken the mall image to being more plebeian.

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  12. I would honestly say if they fail to lure any of the above they should simply just demolish the old Lord & Taylor and Parisian locations. I think most malls these days never truly fathom that simply demolishing a dead anchor could go a long way to strengthening a mall.

    Most early malls only had 1-2 anchors and were still very successful. The Lord & Taylor looks like it's from the 70's and never really did fit in with the mall anyway. Just having those gone would make redevelopment easier and would open up the possibility of a new mall entrance.

    This entire wing of the mall is in jeapordy because of Dillard's being on very shaky ground. If all three went away, this could make a very grand new main entrance court by just knocking down all the anchors and making that nothing more than a big mall entrance area. Add in some trendy restaurants surrounding it with both mall and exterior entrances and you have something special as well as a more manageable three anchor mall.

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  13. This area was hard hit in the IT bust in the early 2000s and the more recent real estate bubble. I can remember shopping at some of the nearby strips even before then and being surprised at the rather limited amount of store traffic. My guess is that this mall was built partly on spec, in terms of the future promise of the area.

    People I've known in high end businesses have always told me that Atlanta has less wealth than appearences would suggest (i.e., lots of leveraging with real estate, plus credit card debt) and that the truly wealthy shop in New York and elsewhere. Lenox & Phipps depend heavily on out of towners. In terms of comparisons, Boston, DC and SF metros are similar in size to metro Atlanta, although all are probably more affluent. OTOH, DC in particular probably has less regional reach given its proximity to Philly and Richmond. Bloomie's has 3 stores in the DC area although the newest is sure to cannibalize the older White Flint store which is a few miles away. They have 3 stores and a home store in Chicago, which is a much bigger amrket. Nieman Marcus has 2 stores and an outlet in DC and 2 in Boston. Nordstrom has one store in the DC area (and one semi-planned), plus one in Baltimore and several in areas in between. Norsdtsrom seems mostly to be building Rack stores rather than new Nordstroms, though. None of this suggests that Atlanta is grossly understored for tehse chains.

    Most likely none of the major upscale chains will be building new stores anytime soon. If North Point can limp a long with its current line up and grow its inline selection then it may end up as a more attractive lifestyle/mall hybrid.

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  14. Just don't forget the fact that Taubman was planning an upscale mall two exits up at 400 & McFarland anchored by Neiman Marcus and one other upscale anchor. That is one of the reasons I have been so adamant about this in regard to North Point. I believe if they secure at least one upscale store than they will finally secure the market they've failed to for so long.

    Also, in regards to that area. While that whole city may be fishy with actual earned wealth, many very wealthy people have chosen to live there such as celebrities, and people in upper level management choose to live in those areas as well. I use to work in this area (and dealt with the snobbery as well). It is the only part of Atlanta where it is possible to earn a high income without years of experience, and the area has somewhat recovered in the past few years from the IT bust.

    In regards to foreclosures, that is all true, but this area seems a bit less affected. The mansions up in the newly formed city of Milton (basically former unincorporated Alpharetta) are absolutely unbelievable. These are the people that drive past that mall to go to those others. While I agree that the super rich would prefer New York for shopping, a large part of that is also that the local market has failed to lure them into the local market.

    However, Atlanta still has a stigma as basically a more sophisticated oasis in a mostly rural Southern state. It is not hard to see the problems when a mansion is built next door to a run down 1940's to 1960's ranch house on a small dirt farm who they hope to run off with taxes or buyouts: IOW, the speculator/developer friendly mess that has almost wiped us out.

    That was part of the fuel for the bitter undertones over Rich's was that we had an upscale, almost mythical store that everybody in the city was proud of. That was up until Federated bought them out and ran the down, that it was actually considered a LEADER in fashion nationwide. Basically, when a new product was tested if it sold at Rich's, it was going to sell everywhere else. Corporate buyout, marginalization and the disastrous effects of nearby housing projects on the downtown store brought it down, and our upscale outposts still fail to measure up to those stores in their home bases.

    Neiman Marcus brought in some of that cachet for the same reason that Rich's once did...to provide the South with an elite shopping experience since New York and the West Coast kept snubbing us. Unfortunately, as long as the "real wealth" is kept out of the South, the situation will not improve.

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  15. Taubman's interest needs to be put in the context of the Atlanta area jurisdictions basically being in developers' pockets and mall developers (until a few years ago) continuing to plan essentially redundant malls in places where it's easy to build (the Sunbelt outside of California and Atlanta wannabes like Columbus, Ohio where they built 3 new malls in rapid succession which killed or severely wounded a number of existing malls). Real estate speculation has little to do with real market potential, esp. in places that invite it.

    In the context of Atlanta's 4million plus people, a few affluent communities don't necessarily justify a new mall or new branches of existing stores. I'm actually surpised Bloomie's has stayed at Lenox as the store is too close to the one at Perimeter and has never seemed busy, even during the holidays (unlike Macy's or N-M).

    Atlanta's "oasis" status probably helps attract stores because they draw from a wider area than more affluent markets of similar size. Still, one of the problems with Atlanta is that the chains of all kinds tend to narrow cast their selections and its often more interesting to shop the same store in LA, SF, Chicago, etc. than to shop locally. This even affects relatively businesses with local roots like Wolf Camera (lousy selection of camera bags). Stores that offer something beyond this do seem to prosper--IKEA tapped into a market for conetmporary furniture that wasn't overpriced. Publix offered a shopping experience that was noticably better than Kroger. One of the problems with Atlanta is that retailers, including some of the locals, don't have faith in the peoople who live there.

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  16. I remember going to this mall's Grand Opening events. I met Otis Nixon at the opening of his specialty electronics store "O-Zone" and Bobby Cox was signing autographs at one of the anchors. The thing that strikes me about this mall, is that it was pretty much a prototype for Stonebriar Centre in Frisco, Texas. Stonebriar opened seven years after North Point, but the first time I walked into it I was like "this is North Point!?" Right down the the Merry-Go-Round.

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  17. I was hoping you could do Perimeter Mall! Also the Summit in Birmingham, Macon Mall (which is looking much better than you last did it), and lastly Lenox Square today. Thanks!!!

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  18. The old Parisian is being demolished to make way for a brand new AMC theater.

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  19. Looks like the GAP stores left a BIG GAP at North Point. All 5 GAP stores (GAP, GAP kids, Baby GAP, GAP Maternity, and GAP body) have vacated the mall in January of this year, leaving a big void on the lower level of the mall near the Dillard's wing. This is not a good start for the GGP group. Some of the specialty stores at North Point are not generating enough revenue. There is a great possibility that more smaller stores will soon follow GAP out of the mall. Yes, North Point is a nice mall, but it will not help any if these store are barely making a profit to cover its lease.

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