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The Commercial Appeal - Saturday, July 27, 1991

Author: Laurel Campbell The Commercial Appeal The Mall of Memphis formally unveiled its new look Friday, a renovation that cost $10 million and took a year to complete.

Mall executives hope the improvements, which range from larger skylights to expanded food court seating, will attract more shoppers and perhaps some new retail stores to the 10-year-old mall. Singer Johnny Rivers, who took the song Memphis to No. 2 nationally in 1964, headlines a weekend of activities under the heading Everything old is new again to celebrate the remodeling. Rivers performs two free concerts today at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the mall.

The remodeling is part of a nationwide trend, as construction-starts on new shopping centers fell 33 percent last year and renovations and expansions rose 35 percent, the highest increase ever, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Loans for new projects are difficult to get because of a credit crunch caused by the recession and problems in the savings and loan and banking industries.

The Hahn Co., which co-owns the mall with JMB Properties Co., is no different and is devoting more money to renovating existing centers than building new ones.

In 1980-81, we opened 10 regional malls in 18 months, said John Gilchrist Jr., president and chief executive officer of San Diego-based Hahn Co. I don't see us returning to that level. Our game plan is to build one to two new centers a year, probably closer to one.

Hahn owns and/or manages 53 regional centers in 18 states. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Trizec Corp. Ltd. of Canada, the largest publicly traded real estate company in North America.

Gilchrist called the Mall of Memphis a key property in our portfolio, based on its size (1.1 million square feet) and its ability to dominate in the marketplace.

The concern we see is competition for consumers' dollars from other malls and other shopping centers. Consumers have a lot of choice and perhaps fewer dollars to spend today, Gilchrist said. If we want to respond to the competition, we can't be complacent.

The Mall of Memphis is the largest of five major malls in Memphis. Plans for a new Memphis area mall have been announced by several developers, although no projects have started.

The Mall of Memphis remodeling, designed by Cooper Carry & Associates of Atlanta, included expanding the skylights to increase natural light, installing a glass elevator and two additional stairways, and increasing seating with new tables and chairs in the food court. Ten sMall Shops, tiny storefronts, have been leased to temporary tenants.

If the mall improvements attract more shoppers, store sales increases should follow. Retailers' rental fees to Hahn are based partly on sales, and many Mall of Memphis tenants' leases will be up for renewal in the next three years, Gilchrist said.

There might be new retailers we want to entice in, Gilchrist said. With the renovation, we're creating an environment that, as more space comes up, we'll either renew tenants and get them to remodel their storefronts or attract new retailers.

The Mall of Memphis has 160 shops in addition to four major stores: Dillard's, J. C. Penney, Thalhimers and Service Merchandise. The new environment could encourage shoppers to linger longer, which Gilchrist said produces increased sales.

About 40 percent of mall stores' business is from impulse buying, Gilchrist said. If people spend more time here, that equates to buying more.

Mayor Dick Hackett, speaking at Friday's renovation ceremony, said the Mall of Memphis 's tremendous source of revenue to the city makes it near and dear to my heart.

Hackett and Gilchrist used oversize scissors to cut the ribbon on the renovation, a strip of sheet music from the song Memphis. Caption: photo By Richard Gardner John Gilchrist (left) and Stanley Trezevant, the Mall of Memphis 's original developer, chat at Friday's ribbon-cutting.