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Life after the Mall of Memphis

Editorial 09/25

September 25, 2006

When Wal-Mart sneezes, the rest of the retailing world catches a cold.

A graphic metaphor, but it's apt in describing the contagious effect the Bentonville, Ark.-based giant's actions can have within its industry.

When Wal-Mart announced plans last year to adopt more energy-efficient business practices, environmentalists around the country took notice.

When Wal-Mart announced plans last week to sell many generic prescription drugs for $4 per month on a trial basis, the stocks of rival pharmacy chains plunged.

So if Wal-Mart announces plans to open a super store at the former Mall of Memphis site, that should dramatically improve the prospects for a long-beleaguered parcel of real estate.

Nothing is committed to writing yet. Wal-Mart has an option to buy 20 acres at the former mall site, although a company spokesman said last week that no final decision has been made. Yet Dennis W. Alpert, Wal-Mart's senior manager of public affairs for state and local government relations, made it sound like the company's interest is real.

"What we're trying to do in Memphis is to increase our expansion in Memphis to assist the city in growth and provide economic opportunities for folks in all areas of the city," Alpert said. "If we can be helpful to the city and clean up an area that has been underutilized in the past, we're happy to do it if it works for us.

"Hopefully, in a situation like that, not only would we drive other businesses into the area or bring businesses back, but we'd also bring jobs to those folks."

As a representative for a company that's usually secretive about its plans, Alpert said a mouthful. And he's absolutely right about Wal-Mart's potential to help revitalize the Parkway Village neighborhood.

During the later years of its existence, the Mall of Memphis had a serious PR problem. For several reasons, it was seen as a place people no longer wanted to shop.

But if Wal-Mart puts its stamp of approval on the location, then other retailers are almost certain to follow.

And why wouldn't they? The mall was located on 95 acres of land at the Perkins interchange from Interstate 240. There are few, if any, undeveloped parcels of real estate that large left along the interstate system in Memphis.

Visibility from the interstate was once a problem because of vegetation growing in the Nonconnah Creek basin. However, city officials have done a good job of clearing the site to make it more appealing to potential users.

The site will be even more attractive if the security concerns that helped seal the mall's doom can be adequately addressed. City officials should be ready to help with that.

To some extent, there is a danger that revitalizing the mall site as a retail center could result in a loss of businesses in other nearby areas. For example, Wal-Mart has a store in the nearby Delta Square shopping center that would seem a logical target for closure if a new super center opens at the old mall site.

Overall, though, Wal-Mart's interest is good news for a property that desperately needs some.

The Commercial Appeal