Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jackson Mall: Jackson, MS

Some malls never really die even if that means the mall is reinvented into something radically different than it originally was.  Jackson Mall, now Jackson Medical Mall, is a good example of that.  The concept of "medical malls" has had mixed success.  The Riverbend Medical Mall in Rome, GA was an abject failure while 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville and this mall have both been wildly successful.  While the concept is definitely unconventional, the mall is a mix of offices and a small amount of retail keeping the oldest mall in the city alive when it otherwise would have been closed and demolished.

Opening in 1969, Jackson Mall was the very first mall in the state of Mississippi.  Unfortunately, it did not provide a complete retail experience for Jackson.  Closer to downtown than the other three malls in the city built later, stores that had a presence in the city such as Sears and McRae's remained downtown.  The anchor line-up in the original mall included a two-level Penney's, huge three-level Gayfer's and Woolco with Elmore's variety store near Woolco.  The mall was a straight shot south to north between Penney's and Woolco with Gayfer's off to the west side in the middle.  It also has a main entrance in the middle on the east side and side entrance wings near Woolco and Penney's.  In other words, it was a pretty conventional mall for the era aside from two showy anchors and quite unexciting when Metrocenter and later Northpark Mall arrived on the scene.

This is the current mall directory.  The South Office Center cluster next to the red shops on the left is the former JCPenney, the West Office Center is the former Gayfer's, either 3 or 5 is the old Elmore's, Piccadilly Cafeteria is 35 and the UMC Cancer Institute is the former Woolco.  The first photo is pretty much how the entire main mall looks.  I was unable to photograph center court.

Southeast mall entrance where the retail shops are located.  This is next to JCPenney, and the entire left wall into the mall and former mall entrance contains the former store.

East side of former JCPenney.  Note the design in the white part with the "Funky P" laid out in an array.

When Metrocenter opened, Jackson Mall was able to co-exist with the newer, larger mall since they served different markets in the city.  Jackson Mall served the east and north parts of the city while Metrocenter served the areas south and west.  However, the closure of Woolco in early 1983 began the mall's troubles.  By then, the mall was located far from the interstates in the city and failed to expand and modernize to remain competitive.  When Northpark Mall opened in 1984, it was a catastrophy for the mall immediately taking both JCPenney and Gayfer's leaving the mall anchorless.  Soon after, the mall would close with nothing to draw customers in what had by then become a declining area left behind by retail development.  Most of that new development had mostly sprung up along the eastern side of I-55 while the mall was well west.

View of JCPenney court looking toward Piccadilly and the southwest entrance.  The main mall is to the right.

JCPenney mall entrance with southeast entrance wing to the left.

Woolco court.  Note the large tree and planter.  How come a repurposed mall can have one but a real mall can't have a single one?

In 1995, a local doctor came up with the idea to revive the dead mall as an inner city revitalization project.  Instead of a conventional mall, Dr. Aaron Shirley, according to the mall's website, "proposed that Mississippi's first retail mall be converted into a state-of-the-art ambulatory health care facility providing quality care for the urban poor of Jackson, Mississippi".  As a result, the mall reopened, anchors were filled with medical offices and a retail component was even retained to serve the patients and employees.  A Piccadilly Cafeteria is still operational on the west side near Gayfer's and a few small shops operate in the mall clustered near the former JCPenney.

View of the mall and main entrance with the former Gayfer's in the background.

View of southeast mall entrance with JCPenney in the background.

This former Woolco is pretty self-explanatory.

In appearance today, the interior of the mall retains much of its 1960's appearance.  It has the same high courts next to the major anchors, and the main change seems to be the wooden flooring throughout.  Outside, the anchors also maintain much of their original appearance: especially the old Penney's, which still has a Funky "P" array repeating over the entrances outside.  The mall also is probably busier than it was at its peak keeping a completely full parking lot.  In fact, it was extremely difficult to find a parking place when I arrived.  Rest assured, most of the people that were there probably did not want to be there.

The pictures of this mall are not the best, because it was difficult to get pics both inside and out.  The absense of parking and presence of too many people made getting good angles tough, especially outside.  This was the former Gayfer's.

This is my best shot of the old JCPenney.  Other than the lack of a logo, the store still looks like it never stopped being JCPenney.

Another impossible mall angle due to congestion.  JCPenney is ont he right, the southwest mall entrance in the center and Piccadilly Cafeteria is on the left.

While the mall is no longer in its original use, I applaud the efforts to keep the mall alive.  I believe it is important for the state's oldest malls to be kept open and in use at any cost as they are historically significant.  Malls such as McAlister Square in Greenville, SC, the oldest in South Carolina, likewise found a re-use as a multi-university campus.  While I wish these historical malls could become real malls again, I was pleased to see that all of Jacksons malls are still intact in some form and that the city has a vested interest in keeping them all alive.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Metrocenter: Jackson, MS

My first entry for the state of Mississippi is about Mississippi's largest mall, which is unfortunately a beleaguered mall that is barely holding onto its original intended retail purpose.  Opened in 1978, Metrocenter was once the shining star of the state hosting four excellent anchors in a great location with a ton of promise.  Those fortunes have faded away over the past two decades as population and demographic shifts have caused the mall to fall out of favor.  The result has unfortunately been the mall losing every single major department store anchor with exception of a Burlington Coat Factory filling the bottom level of a former Gayfer's.  Today, the mall is over 50% vacant with inline tenants largely gone and most of the bottom level closed to the public.  The interior portion of the mall will likely close soon if steps are not taken to repurpose the entire center for a non-retail use.  Nevertheless, the mall remains open for business for the time being.

Jim Wilson & Associates developed Metrocenter, which is located on the west side of Jackson.  Normally a developer of smaller enclosed malls, this was one of their largest projects at the time.  The original anchors were Jackson-based McRae's as the east anchor, New Orleans-based D.H. Holmes as the south anchor, Sears as the west anchor and Mobile-based Gayfer's as the north anchor.  It is a two-level mall with an impressive staggered center court with a large domed skylight, palm trees and a wide atrium.  Overall, the mall has an open, airy feel though an obvious early 90's remodel left the mall considerably less impressive than it likely was originally.  Despite this, the mall has never been expanded and retains a rather classy 70's look outside with some of the best looking anchor designs from the period it was built.  It's also in a highly visible and seemingly excellent location resting in the NW corner of US 80 and I-220 one exit north of I-20.

Here is the entrance wing between McRae's (Belk) and Burlington Coat Factory (Gayfer's).  An old Ruby Tuesday is on the left.  This is the only part of the lower level that still contains active stores.  The first photo is of the center court with the closed-off escalators on the right.  Only one set of escalators remains open to the lower level.

Lower-level entrance wing opposite the one above.  This is between the former Belk and former Dillard's (D.H. Holmes).

More of the same with a useless framework overhead.

The lower-level entrances include a small portion of the main mall remaining open.  Note the temporary wall in the background.  However, no stores are operational in this area.

Anchor consolidation did not help the fortunes of the mall.  Dillard's ultimately became owner of two anchors in the mall through purchase of the parent companies of those stores.  The first was when D.H. Holmes was purchased by Dillard's in 1989 with the store converted to the Dillard's nameplate.  While that change was purely cosmetic, this posed a bigger problem when Dillard's later also purchased Gayfer's in 1998.  Dillard's promised to keep both stores open only to quickly close the former Gayfer's in 1999.  Leaving one anchor vacant at the mall was only the beginning of the mall's troubles.  By then, the mall was languishing due to competition from North Park Mall, an emerging retail corridor on the east side of the city as well as the overall decline of the area surrounding the mall.  This was not a fault of the mall owners.  It was simply a case of circumstances beyond their control: a factor in the death and decline of many other similarly successful malls.

Photo of the overhead skylight from the McRae's/Belk court.

Former McRae's/Belk mall entrance.  This was McRae's flagship up until the store at Dogwood Festival Marketplace opened in 2002.  However, both stores remained open until 2010, though operating as Belk since 2006.

View of McRae's mall entrance from upper level south court. 

Lower level of same court.  Escalators were laid out perpendicular to the main mall in the north and south courts.

By 2004, it was becoming obvious the mall was facing an uncertain future.  This is when Dillard's left the mall leaving two anchors dark.  Crime problems were already escalating, curfews had been instated a few years before and the mall began to bleed tenants as the wealth and population continued to shift out of the city of Jackson to neighboring Brandon, Flowood and Ridgeland.  Looking at Jackson today, it is clear that the concentration of suburban development has long since moved away from Metrocenter.  It was by this time that Metrocenter showed up on  Unfortunately, the state of the mall today proves that this status is deserved.

Walking toward center court along the upper level.  The wall in the previous photo is visible here on the lower level.

Looking back in the opposite direction toward McRae's.  The name of the store in both photos is a good title for this photo set.

Here is the mall directory.  The directory still shows Belk and Sears (both gone).  The top anchor and bottom anchor were both Dillard's, but originally were Holmes and Gayfer's, respectively.

 Sears mall entrance.  Unfortunately I was not able to capture a better angle.  Connect the dots.

Before further decline set in, the malls fortunes seem to be improving slightly.  In August 2007, Burlington Coat Factory moved in and took the lower level of the former Gayfer's.  The same year, McRae's parent company Saks, Inc. sold McRae's to Belk.  Two years later, the slide continued as Belk closed their store in the mall.  Belk cited that they wanted to focus on their other area stores, including the recently opened store at Dogwood Festival Market in Flowood to the east, which had previously opened as McRae's replacement flagship store.  Sadly, the McRae's at Metrocenter was the former flagship store.  Neither Dillard's nor Belk is close to the mall.  Later that year, the City of Jackson purchased the former Dillard's.  A year later, the mall would enter foreclosure with Westcor as the owners by that time.  The current owners, the Overby Company are a Jackson-area real estate firm who purchased the mall.  In 2011, the City of Jackson also proceeded purchase of the former McRae's store, which is currently under renovations for city offices currently located in the Jackson Medical Mall.  At the same time, Sears announced the closing of their store at the mall.  This not only was the final death knell for the mall leaving the mall anchorless, but this also marked the total departure of Sears from the entire city of Jackson.

A view opposite the Sears mall entrance.  The lower level here was completely closed off.

Dillard's (DH Holmes) mall entrance on the lower level off of center court.  The upper level entrance was walled off.

Burlington Coat Factory (Gayfer's) mall entrance also on the lower level of center court.  Again, the upper level mall entrance was walled off.  Burlington here has sealed off their mall entrance elminating any reason to go downstairs in the center court except to take pics of it.

Upper level elevator entrance in center court.  I chose the escalator.

Visiting Metrocenter was a creepy experience.  The mall in many ways is still trapped in time, though more evident from the outside.  The parking lot is full of weeds as if the mall has already closed, and the pavement is in horrible condition with buckled concrete, potholes and broken pavement pretty much everywhere.  Every anchor is dark as well with exception to the lower level of the old Gayfer's and Belk store under renovations for offices.  While very distinctive and elegant, the anchors looked forboding.  Holmes/Dillard's was in the worst shape with broken glass on the exterior.  McRae's, obviously showcasing its one-time flagship store, was the most elegant but clearly dated.  The entrances also were a definite throwback to a flashier time in retail design with its shiny mirrored look.  The mall's logo also looks to have never been updated.

Closed escalators rising to the Sears wing from center court.

View of the staggered center court complete with splashy decor and withering palm trees.  It looks like the party is over minus the beer cans and millionth spin of Margaritaville.

A look back toward the Sears wing.

A look at center court from lower level complete with sculpted shrubs.

Another angle of the lower level.

Note in the background the mirrors on the escalators.  Also notice that although they went pure fab for the center court then ran out of money when time came to put in the fountains.  While it may still be running, this is not a fountain.  This is bidet.

Inside, the mall feels like it has already been forgotten.  While most of the lower level was closed, it was still visible with temporary walls blocking each section.  In fact, no stores remained operational on the lower level except a couple local operations near the former Belk with outside access.  Mysteriously, the lower level of center court was still accessible despite Burlington Coat Factory closing its mall entrance and not a single store remaining operational below.  Even a couple small fountains still splashed a song.  The center court, also once elegant, proved to be depressing as palm trees withered due to neglect.  All but two escalators overall were blocked off except one in center court and one in the court next to the old Belk.  The mall still had a surprisingly high amount of business, though, considering the fading state of the mall.  Perhaps the place has become a curiosity of locals who just want to see it a few more times before it is gone.

Maybe this explains the bad luck the mall has had judging by the broken mirror.  Not many people were seeing this, though, as shoppers were non-existent in this area due to a lack of stores to shop in.

Absolutely no stores were closed up on the lower level.  One store I was able to walk right into as there were no barriers, no doors nor walls.  Check out this restaurant here just right out in the open.  This reminds me of this photo.

A view of the elevators to the left and only functioning escalators to the lower level court.  Holmes would be to the right.

This mirror-clad gaudy entrance looks unmistakably similar to the one used in the final renovation of now-dead Montgomery Mall.

Metrocenter directory outside of the mall.  I really do love the name and logo of this mall.

Metrocenter sign at main entrance facing US 80.

While I applaud the city's efforts to keep Metrocenter viable, I question if it is really going to save the interior part of the mall.  If the mall closes without any interest, the decaying building will likely become a health hazard to those offices that are located there.  The mall will need to be a mixed-use project throughout, but the sheer size, condition of the surrounding property and subpar location will make it difficult to completely fill the center.  Perhaps the city intends to grow into the rest of the mall, but otherwise what will become of a mall in its last stages of survival?  The prospects do not seem promising, but perhaps someone will find a great use for the amount of space that is there.  At least we will know what it looks like and what it once was before it is gone.

Lower-level entrance of Sears.  It was very plain, but had a 90's stucco "upgrade" on the upper level entrance typical of pretty much every 90's Sears store.

Former D.H. Holmes store.  Note the spot for the logo and the smashed glass.  The mall already is looking abandoned outside despite still being open. 

Apparently the City of Jackson has a vested interest in keeping the mall from being completely abandoned since they are in the process of renovating the old McRae's/Belk for city offices.  It is a very striking store and one of the best looking mall anchors of the 70's I have ever seen.

Gayfer's was pretty plain for the most part.  While the Burlington logo is on both levels, only this lower-level entrance is open with the chain only using half the store.

Here is a view of the Sears and Holmes with a visual of how rough the parking lot looks.

Overflow parking lot with I-220 in the background.