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Mall of Memphis a 'clean canvas' Demolition done, but old 'negatives' linger

By Amos Maki Contact September 16, 2005

The last remnants of the Mall of Memphis have been hauled off to a landfill in Southeast Memphis.

Now the company that owns the 95-acre site at Perkins and Interstate 240, a division of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., can move forward with plans to form a joint venture or sell the property for development.

"It wasn't until we began to demolish the space that opportunities began to present themselves because there was a clean canvas to look at," said Alan Long, who is overseeing the site for the owner. "We are looking for investment people for the highest and best use of this site."

That hasn't been determined, although officials say attracting a big-box retailer like Wal-Mart, and possibly one or two others, would be ideal. Other ideas include developing a mixed-use site, one that includes housing or a police precinct or library, as well as retail.

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, already has a store in the area at the Delta Square shopping center on American Way.

Officials familiar with the company said Wal-Mart is not happy with the current location, which is in the same shopping center as a popular nightclub.

But the surrounding Parkway Village neighborhood, or the perception of the neighborhood held by retailers, could be a roadblock to attracting retailers and broader redevelopment of the site.

"You're fighting an uphill battle with retailers," said Danny Buring of The Shopping Center Group. "There are still negatives associated with the (Mall of Memphis) name and the area." Those negatives stem from several high-profile crimes at the old mall, and the perception that the neighborhood is in decline.

While Buring is not currently involved with the site, he helped market the property to retailers for Atlanta-based New Bridge Retail Advisors, which was hired by the owner to explore redevelopment opportunities.

The mall closed in December 2003, 22 years after it opened, though it had been declining since the mid-1990s. Bankruptcies of large national and regional retailers led some stores to leave even before the 1.1 million-square-foot Wolfchase Galleria opened in Cordova in 1997. Other mall merchants left in 2001, following the loss of anchor stores Dillard's and J.C. Penney.

Two new suburban centers, The Southaven Towne Center in Southaven and Avenue Carriage Crossing in southwest Collierville, are set to open in October.

Despite the area's real or perceived problems, its central location and access to the interstate remain pluses.

"I've always liked the site," Buring said. "It's 90 acres of raw land in the middle of the city. As the city continues to grow and expand, sites that are inside the loop will be harder and harder to find."

If retailers do decide to set up shop at the site, they would occupy only a portion of the land.

Plenty of room is left for a possible housing component and maybe even some form of government services, such as a library or police precinct.

The city has wanted to build a new Parkway Village branch library for some time, and included $720,000 in the 2006 fiscal year capital improvement budget to fund architecture and engineering studies on a new library.

Long said the company plans to line up meetings with city officials in the near future.

"We are weighing our options, and I think our thought process is we do have an opportunity to do something with the city," said Long. "Big-box use would be of some interest. We've considered multifamily use to the extent that it is economically feasible."

Robert Lipscomb, city chief financial officer and director of Housing and Community Development, said the best hope for the site is some sort of mixed-use development.

"We know it can't be all retail because that area can't support all retail," Lipscomb said. "How do you get retail, housing and possibly government services to come together to make a viable project?"

Larry Jensen, president and CEO of Commercial Advisors, said the redevelopment of the site could be a catalyst for improving the surrounding neighborhood.

"It's a very fine piece of property in terms of its potential for redevelopment," said Jensen. "To me, it's not just redevelopment of 90 acres. It's redevelopment of a community."