Today, University Mall looks solid from the outside but is literally like a tree hollowed out. While these anchors are alive and well, in between is an open and empty mall with a leaking roof with missing sheetrock and ceiling tiles obviously removed from water damage and never replaced. Normally a state of disrepair would be the case in any mall with nothing left, but the funny thing is that the mall is still anchored by three solid anchors: JCPenney, Sears and Belk. Belk was the only anchor change since the mall opened, since Belk bought out McRae's in 2006. The movie theater, however, has long since closed. How a mall can have all its anchors and still die is quite strange, but the story is more eerie than most. The problem was the mall was damaged in Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and for some reason this damage led to Simon deciding to de-mall the center when it was previously doing fine. The damage was obviously extensive, and I am only going to speculate on the reasons for not simply repairing it.
Lunch isn't served today...or ever again. This sad food court looks to have been built later than the rest of the mall and is apparently right next to Sears. The first photo shows center court in a very dilapidated state with missing sheetrock and ceiling tiles all damaged in 2004 and obviously never replaced. All photos and most of the information on this page are by Stephen Majors. He went out of his way to get these for me, and I appreciate it. A few of you have probably also seen these in the deadmalls.com Facebook group.
I suppose that Simon was tired of having two malls cannibalize each other. Simon bought the mall in 1994, and they also own Cordova Mall, so competition is hardly a factor in the case of University Mall. What also did not help was when Cordova Mall was expanded in 1998 so that it is now a four anchor mall compared to the original dumbbell shaped Cordova Mall. However, only Belk overlaps at the two malls, thus the two anchors Sears and JCPenney have no current competition nor need to leave the mall since there is obviously no room at Cordova and no other developments exist in the city that would support them. The most likely reason, though, that these anchors hang on is very likely due to definite plans to redevelop the mall as a lifestyle center as well on top of an obvious lack of space at Cordova Mall.
If you can look past the missing ceiling tiles, the diagonal, almost pinwheel like skylights are quite unique. The skylights are actually on the side window and not directly overhead.
More detail of center court. It seems like it was such a happy place once.
Former Hallmark and Radio Shack.
I'm guessing a mall arcade. It looks like the hood of an 80's Firebird.
Empty shops along the northwest entrance wing. This looks like a jewelry store.
Former Hope Community Church, which previously operated as United Artist Cinemas.
Today, the completely barren University Mall looks downright dilapidated. After all leases were terminated in 2009, it is completely barren inside along with the obvious structural issues. From the pictures, it was also last renovated apparently in the late 1980's judging by the color tones, non-working fountains and sunken seating area in the center court. The movie theater also last functioned as a church, but is also empty today. I guess Simon thinks they can do better than this mall, but the tight credit market and poor economy is the reason this mall is still standing, and it will likely take some taxpayer financing to get the project off the ground.
Caution! Wet Floor! A leaky roof is obviously a major issue on the JCPenney wing.
Looking at Belk (former McRae's) from center court including a now non-operational fountain. This was a very showy entrance indeed.
Looking toward Sears with a dark Rainbow on the left. This was obviously a mall geared somewhat lower than Cordova Mall.
A closer look at Sears, which stares out at an almost apocalyptic scene.
In some ways, it seems odd that Cordova was not just expanded to include Sears and JCPenney so as to leave University Mall to die, but keep in mind the decline has only been in the past six years. Cordova has two Dillard's, Belk and a Best Buy: a rather odd line-up for a dominant regional mall. In fact, the only reason for the Belk overlap is because of the buyout of McRae's four years ago followed by Parisian three years ago. The Cordova Belk location had previously operated as Parisian, and it came after McRae's had already transitioned to Belk. Considering that it is a smaller market, both malls likely had much of the same stores, though evidence suggests this mall was somewhat more downscale than Cordova.
Another view of center court. The only thing I don't like here is the lack of planters and those horrendous colored tiles.
How sad...I guess this was put there just before everybody was kicked out. Pretty soon, more than just this wall will be a memory. I wish I could buy this mall, fix it up and offer new leases to everybody for rock bottom prices. Couldn't they at least put a nice bookstore chain in the old theater and just try to redo the mall?
The ceiling design is one of the more unique elements of the mall containing vaulted ceilings in the center court and high windows arranged in a diagonal, almost pinwheel-like pattern giving a visually appealing experience. While this is very eye catching and is one of the best designs I have seen, my guess is that the design was not built with hurricanes in mind since most buildings in the 70's were not designed to withstand major hurricanes. Ivan was a particularly severe hurricane, and likely the damage was sufficient enough that insuring the center would mean major structural modification. Since malls seem to be out of favor in the world of retailing, to Simon it made sense to empty out the place and demolish it for a lifestyle center in lieu of just retrofitting, restoring and reopening the center. Rebuilding the existing mall would likely have cost as much as just demolishing and starting anew...the latter option chosen. I just hope that the new mall is an actual open-air mall with fountains, planters and tasteful architecture in lieu of just building a big driveway down the center of the mall with shops on each side. Still, I would prefer to keep the enclosed mall.
I am really digging this mall sign. It is straight up 70's looking. I guess the sign is saying "We are open for you to wander around in between our lively anchors so long as you don't take pictures."
The food court entrance has mid-90's stucco trappings combined with very 70's doors.
The front entrance of the mall does not look a day over 1974. The effects of the photo almost make it seem like a big chain link fence is already around it with bulldozers prepared to chomp away at the 36 year old mall.
Simon's purchase of University Mall was an obvious checkmate for the company and a real disadvantage to shoppers in Pensacola since they were offered no true variety. This is also not the only city where Simon owns both malls. Knoxville has a similar situation with one mall completely dominant and the other fading very similar to what happened in Pensacola. Nevertheless, the dual ownership assured that both malls survived in one form or another. While it is unfortunate that the mall had to end this way, maybe the new development will be attractive and more exciting than an empty, torn up mall.
Empty storefront reflecting the photographer. I remember signs like this in Cookeville Mall.
Robb is not here anymore. Neither is Erica. Would you like to schedule an appointment at our other location? We're booked here clear through 2015.
Claire's has not been gone too long. That's for sure.
Can't figure this one out.
Radio Shack is actually doing well these days, so they were probably one of the last to go. Thanks again Stephen!