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Friday, September 25, 2009

Madison Square

"The malls are the soon-to-be ghost towns; well so long, farewell, goodbye."- Modest Mouse, "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine"

I'm bored. Very little of any significance is happening right now, so let's talk about something random. Today, we'll discuss Madison Square, Huntsville's next "dead mall."

Ask yourself: When was the last time you went to Madison Square? I can bet that for many of you, it's been a while; probably longer than your last trip to Parkway Place or Bridge Street.
Madison Square Mall was opened in 1984, with 5 anchors: JC Penney, Sears, Parisian, Caster Knott (now Dillard's), and Pizitz (became McRae's, now Belk). It has room for up to 120 stores. Madison Square has been renovated twice-- once in 1994 and again in 2006. At the time of its opening, it was built in what seemed like the edge of nowhere; Huntsville stopped at Sparkman, as seen in this 1982 map (Look-- a Woolco!):

Despite store mergers, liquidations, and stores surrounding Madison Square closing and/or moving farther out into the sprawl of western Madison County, it fared relatively well for its first 20 years, mainly because it had no competition. Madison Square's opening began the slow and painful decline of the three older (smaller) malls near downtown that shared that title through the 70s: The Mall, Parkway City Mall, and Heart of Huntsville Mall (now Constellation); all of which had become "dead malls" by 2000.

But those dead malls came back to haunt Madison Square. In 1999, the Fountain replaced The Mall, and while the power center, with anchors like Home Depot and Costco, had little effect on Madison Square, the opening of Parkway Place (formerly Parkway City) in 2002 did, which, ironically enough, is partially owned by the same developers/owners of Madison Square (CBL of Chattanooga), who had scrapped plans to build a 1.2 million sq. ft. enclosed mall (scroll down) in South Huntsville in the late 90s to redevelop Parkway City. After that, Madison Square was referred to as the "old mall" (as in, "Hey, want to go to the mall?" "Which one? The new mall or the old mall?"). But despite the label, Madison Square held on to most of its name-brand tenants until 2007-2008, when it was hit twice: Bridge Street opened a couple of miles to the south, and the recession began soon after, with stores like KB Toys, Friedman's Jewelers and Steve and Barry's closing as part of their respective company liquidations.

Now, to be fair, despite the odds being against it, Madison Square is still holding on. Four out of its five anchor spots are still occupied, and it still has over 80 stores (not including the food court or kiosks). Definitely not a dead mall. But some of the recent tenants-- a blacklight mini-golf course, a now-defunct auto dealership, even a sex shop-- are signs that the end is near for Madison Square.

In the next few years, it's going to get harder for Madison Square to hold its ground. Bridge Street and Parkway Place have plans for future anchor tenants. While we can safely speculate that Macy's (not a Madison Square anchor) is at the top of at least Bridge Street's list, it isn't out of the question that one of the current Madison Square anchors (especially JCPenney) could be siphoned away with the promise of a new store elsewhere. And then there's the threat of uber-sprawl developments such as WaterStone in Madison.

There are several ways a dead mall can be "resurrected." In Nashville, a mall called Bellevue Center quickly died after losing two of its three anchors, and all that remains today is a Sears. The mall is now planned to be partially converted to a Kohl's on one level and a branch of the Nashville Public Library on the other (though it's on hold due to legal reasons). On the other side of the city, there are plans to convert part of Hickory Hollow, a mall very much like Madison Square (age, size, ownership), into a satellite campus for a community college. Converting Madison Square into a power center or an educational facility could work, but let's be creative, shall we?

From "super-regional" to "super-mixed-use"

Here's my idea for that day in the near future when Madison Square kicks the bucket. Let's look at what it's got: it's in a very visible location, at the intersection of University and AL255, an area with ~100,000 vehicles passing through every day. A high-visibility location such as Madison Square deserves a high-visibility redevelopment. So how about this: assuming the current anchors remain (they separately own the parcels of land their stores sit on), build a 40-ish-store open-air center in the parking lot and move the current tenants there along with some new ones. Then close the old mall and convert it to an open-air center, with another 40 retail spaces remaining on the ground floor and office space on the upper level.

The sea of parking at Madison Square could be put to better use by creating a high-density, pedestrian-friendly environment (like Atlanta's Atlantic Station and Austin's The Domain) surrounding the new open-air center. One idea is to build several mid- and high-rise (5-15 floors) office buildings, and add a few hotels, new anchors, and condos/apartments down the road. Parking would be consolidated into several multi-story parking garages. I left off most of that on the layout above (note the large chunks of remaining parking lot) because the number of possible layouts is infinite; I'll leave that to your imagination.

Note that this is merely my idea; it is NOT an official plan by CBL (the developers/owners of Madison Square). So don't get on to me if this doesn't happen, because, it won't.

Madison Square still has a few years left in it; worst-case scenario, I give it until 2014, its 30th anniversary. And a smaller revitalization (such as demolishing only a portion of the mall and converting it to an open-air center) might add a decade or so to its lifespan. Admittedly, my idea is quite radical. But that's what Huntsville needs-- new, fresh, unique ideas-- to get itself away from having the feel of an overgrown suburb.

Educate yourself: If you wondering what the heck I was talking about when I mentioned "dead malls," here's a couple of my favorite blogs on the subject. They include some interesting articles on some Huntsville malls, including The Mall and Madison Square:
deadmalls DOT com
Labelscar

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think they really need a restauraunt...like a Tony Roma's in the vaant spot in the food court and maybe one more in the mall to bring more folks in. Also another great idea would be to change the run down theater into a dollar theater.

Anonymous said...

I went to HS at Grissom and graduated in 1995. Back in my day, Madison Square was the mall to go to. I've moved away, but when I've been back during the past two years, I have noticed more and more stores closing there and not getting replaced. It's a shame, the latest remodel actually looks pretty nice, unlike the 1994 one. Plus, all the big box stores across the street have closed as well.

I have a friend that manages one of the stores there, he says it's pretty dead, and the store he's in is probably going to close soon.

That end of the city is just over saturated with retail. In just the past 10 years, all the development at Westside Center has been built, the new stores out 72 into Madison, Bridge Street, etc. I don't think that side of Huntsville alone can support that much retail, especially since the south side has its own retail section in Jones Valley. Madison Square, being the oldest, naturally is going to vacate as tenant move to newer locales. Really, instead of giving incentives to build Bridge St, the city should have given incentives to redevelop Madison Sq into a town center, like the plan mentioned here.

joe_mama said...

I don't think Macy's is going to Bridge Street. Mark my words, it'll be Nordstrom. As soon as an anchor is announced at Bridge Street, that's probably the last nail in Madison Square's coffin.

James said...

@joe_mama: Nordstrom probably won't come to Huntsville until we add another half-million to our population. Plus with new stores in Nashville and Birmingham (eventually) it will be years before they come here, unless they introduce a smaller store design for cities such as ours.

Jordan said...

You know, your suggestion for an open-air mall with mid-rise, mixed use buildings and deck-style parking sounds quite a bit like Bridge Street on a larger scale... In any case, it sounds like a good idea to me.

I'd definitely support the idea of having green space as a central feature of the mall. Huntsville - and that part of Huntsville in particular - is short on public green space and city parks. It would be a nice departure from the paved-over feeling that pervades all of University Dr.

It's interesting that Madison Square remodeled in 2006. They would have known at that point that a new mall was in the works for the Research Park area - because such a plan was on the books for many years before it eventually took form as Bridge Street. Remodeling isn't something you want to do right before you tear down a mall, so it seems that they were expecting, perhaps wrongly, to be around for a long while to come.

James said...

@Jordan: Mall renovations don't always guarantee a longer mall life. Parkway City Mall was renovated in 1994; by 2000, it was being torn down to make way for Parkway Place.

Anonymous said...

I forgot about Parkway City's renovations in 1994. They really weren't that much though, just new entrance signs and paint on the inside.

Parkway City got replaced fairly quickly upon dying. The Toys R Us mall sat empty for years before finally being torn down, same with Heart of HSV mall.

I wonder if Madison Square will get redeveloped quickly, and if so, into what? I think the plan here is pretty good, but I doubt it's going to happen. Maybe Madison Square could get redeveloped into office space for research park? Or maybe a new enclosed mall? I doubt anything will happen until the economy gets moving again.

Anonymous said...

Bridge Street is a nice place, but the the majority of stores are pretty useless. Way overpriced items. I think Parkway Place is very similar. I still like our Madison Square. The food court still has a few good options and there's Sears and JC Penney in one location. The only change I could see for Madison Square that would make it any better would be to convert it to an outlet mall. Those are always packed in decent size areas. You often get name brands for a fraction of the cost. If they do that, though, I still need Sears and JC Penney to have locations in West Huntsville or Madison.

Anonymous said...

An outlet mall is not a bad idea, sort of like a smaller version of a Mills mall. Huntsville doesn't really have one of those, and it wouldn't directly compete with Bridge St.

James said...

You'd have to be careful with an outlet mall. Many outlet malls seem to have shorter lifespans than regular malls. Look at Boaz, or WaterMark Place (?) in Bessemer. It would have to be tastefully done and include more than just outlet stores, like Louisiana Boardwalk in Shreveport, LA (developed by Bridge Street's O&S), in order to succeed.

Anonymous said...

i think the open air mall concept is stupid here; bridge street can be too much walking in the cold winter or rain, as oppossed to walkin at madison square where it would be more enjoyable and an escape from the weather

Sharp said...

We still shop at Madison Square. Sears, JCPenney, Victoria's Secret, and Hallmark still get plenty of our money because of brand loyalty. But no one else there does. Not since Waldenbooks pulled out.

Madison Square's anchors are still perfect for retaining mid-market customers when the economy bounces back. They need to preserve and expand on that niche - not aim for the high end. Bridge Street has already won that demo and is not giving it back.

Having said that, they can't go low-rent. They don't need bargain stores and a dollar theater. They've essentially got that now (the theater has a $2 section already; half the tenants use hand-made signs; the blacklight golf is an eyesore and creepy) and it ain't working. It's tacky and no one wants to take their family there. And low-end stores don't generate enough revenue to carry the overhead of an enclosed mall.

They also need diversity. If they play their cards right in this arena, they could bring the same kind of paybacks on Bridge Street that Parkway Place did to them. Bridge Street has absolutely no appeal to many men. It's nearly exclusively women's clothing and shoes with a bookstore and an Apple store thrown in to give us some place to hang out while the ladies shop. If MS can bring in a few more general interest stores they could draw the disaffected male traffic.

I, too, don't really see the attraction of open-air. It's nice for a stroll in the spring or fall (and I occasionally do my walking around BS's walking path without ever buying a thing there) but it really limits the traffic to periods of good weather. It's also a pain for disabled customers to be in the elements.

Anonymous said...

an outlet mall would be a great idea! We could use one.

I was just at the madison square mall (Nov. 2009) since it's so close to where I work. They aren't trying to hard to keep the place. The elevator had several broken tiles for example. Of all places, it seems like they would keep their one elevator looking decent. It's not like it's a nice looking mall with stores just dying out. The place is falling apart, and they don't seem to care. Plus, the rearrangement of their bathrooms was not a good idea. I'm still not sure where the moved them to.