Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Westgate Shopping Center Revisited: Macon, GA

Westgate Shopping Center, also known as Westgate Mall [see older post], was redeveloped in 1994.  Sadly, it seems so many redevelopments of old malls in the 90's now call for another redevelopment.  In the case of Westgate, it is really in a bad spot.  The mall was ailing for years when it was finally torn down, and initially the redevelopment was wildly successful.  The only original anchor to carry over from the original mall was Burlington Coat Factory, but the new strip shopping center brought with it Home Depot and Media Play, both winners in that time period.  Wal-Mart had been added previously, which came itself in the 1980's and did not appear to connect to the mall itself.  The redeveloped center, which replaced the oldest enclosed mall in Georgia, did well for a decade but then seemed to finally fail due to a myriad of problems.

The original mall itself was not very big.  Aside from the fact it never actually had a department store anchor, the number of shops numbered only 30.  It was this compact design which probably led to the many attempts to re-tenant the center into something that Macon Mall did not have.  These days it would have been a perfect center for medical, professional or county offices, but the owners apparently instead preferred the higher dollar option of razing the mall for a traditional strip mall.  It did indeed work for awhile, but looking at where it is today, was this really the best idea?

When Westgate opened, I-75 was not completed and Eisenhower was not yet built, but it was close to downtown.  You think it would have taken advantage of the location.  The first photo shows a drawing of what the inside of the mall looked like.  Early enclosed malls instead of advertising the stores were advertising climate control!  If only today's lifestyle center builders would take a little tiny hint that this isn't California.

A listing of all the original tenants in the mall.  Note the lack of department stores.  No department store ever came to the mall, though Wal-Mart served as a pseudo-anchor in the later years.

Aside from Westgate, the only other mall I have known not to have a department store was Innsbruck in Asheville.  What the mall did have originally, however, was two grocery stores, two five and dime stores, a drug store and an auto parts store.  It was a novelty indeed, but definitely not an all-in-one shopping extravaganza.  Grocery shoppers could choose Big Apple (precursor to Food Giant and later Cub Foods) or Colonial.  Those looking for five and dime could choose between Woolworth's or Newberry's.  The Auto Parts store appeared to be a local affair, and it eventually became Otasco.  After a day of shopping, shoppers could dine at G&M Cafeteria and then get desert at Hefner's Bakery or Betty Ann's Candies.  While real shopping remained downtown at that point, it is undeniable that this was a period when malls were fun and had something for everyone.  Why did that ever have to change?

This is a corrected Westgate Mall map showing a 1993 aerial, but detailing all of the previous stores operating in the mall as well as modifications.  The first name on all the stores listed is the original tenant when the mall first opened.

The problem with redeveloping a dead mall with more retail is that the luster tends to fade quickly.  I can think of no older shopping mall that was redeveloped into a strip mall that turned out to be successful long term.  Part of that is that the owners did not take into account that the surrounding area would eventually pull it down.  This was what was there when the strip was first redeveloped in 1994.  Small shops were placed between Burlington and Wal-Mart.

The factors that killed Westgate could be summarized as crime, bankruptcy of one of its major tenants and a new shopping center down the road.  Obviously, the center would have successfully redeveloped if the neighborhood was prime for new retail.  However, nobody was interested in moving in the dying strip whose cheap stucco remodel looked hopelessly dated by 2005 and its core of shoppers shifting elsewhere.  Second, the bankruptcy of the Media Play chain was obviously a difficult void to fill along with Wal-Mart, which left the center by the middle of the last decade.  Third, Home Depot was lured away to a huge strip further west on the opposite side of Macon Mall.  The end result of this is that the once thriving strip mall is now largely empty making it twice dead much like what happened with Roswell Mall near Atlanta.

This scene looks like the apocalyse (or post-dollar crash) showing a virtually empty strip mall with major chain stores.  If not for Burlington Coat Factory there would be no car in sight.

Media Play was one of my very favorite stores in the 90's, but its all-in-one concept fell apart after the 90's as its competition became more numerous and stronger against the chain.  This is one of the few with the sign still up.  Note the light inside, though...this is a really big surprise coming in the next two pics.

Aside from the light, this damage to the building shows something severe happened.  Apparently a tornado made a direct hit on this building in 2008, which was the same one that hit Macon Mall.

...and severe it was!  The tornado apparently tore off part of the roof leaving a sizable portion of the abandoned store completely open to the elements. 

After nearly 50 years, it apparently is finally too late for Westgate.  This sign looks to predate the demolition of the enclosed mall.

It is unfortunate that the original mall did not find new use, but I wonder if it would have been thriving today re-purposed if they had not torn it down to start with.  It seems Houston Mall is doing better as a spliced up mess of medical, government and professional services than Westgate did as a strip, so maybe the owners of Houston Mall were pretty savvy not giving into the de-malling craze of the past 15 years.  Since this mall is years too late for that, I am guessing Burlington Coat Factory will probably end up at Macon Mall eventually.  Perhaps they should just tear down what is left and let it go back to nature.  It is derelict overall as it is, and it is also a victim of its own age combined with years of poor planning.  Westgate could have succeeded had it been built larger and had department stores, but the circumstances just did not work either time.


  1. Wow, never in a million years would I have thought that I'd see this place on the internet.

    I used to shop at that Media Play / Burlington back in 1997 through to 2000! I remember Media Play having all the latest and greatest in Playstation games.

    Man, it feels like it was so long ago but it hasn't been more then like 12, 13 years!

    Thanks for the blog post, this was very interesting. :) Brought back memories!

  2. Duncan, I just finished correcting the map of the original mall. Check it out to see all that changed. The original post (this was three parts) detailed what was in the original mall. Look in "List of Malls Covered" and you will see the other two posts. I thought you might be interested.

  3. Walmart was the first to go when they built a supercenter at I-475 & Eisenhower in 2000

  4. currently, they just demolished the old Media Play and the Aaron's building. Burlington is still holdin' it down. A business opened up just recently beside Shoe Show. The Old Walmart building is still closed though.

  5. Home Depot arrived, about the same time as Media Play (1994-1995).

  6. Macon should be studied as a whole. It's rise and fall. I know, I grew up there. I believe I saw hints of it's heyday, and even those are gone now. I lived there from 71-01. I still go back from time to time, and have studied it's history. Very interesting place. I do remember Westgate Mall, and its original layout. I even remember going to a circus that was in the field behind it. I remember the Macon Mall was still very new,and fully utilized when I was a kid, and saw it fade away. It's sad, but Macon is a now classic example of a city out on its own, as an island.

  7. So true. Other cities around us are thriving, such as gray, byron, warner robins, while macon just fades away wth crime and violence.