Big box retail centers putting squeeze on remaining malls

Big box retail centers putting squeeze on remaining malls

Were it not for a large handful of noisy neighbors complaining to Fayetteville’s city council in the late 1990s, the city may have been dealing with the same sort of what-do-we-do-with-a-struggling-mall problem that faced Union City in southern Fulton County and Morrow in northern Clayton County.

Back then, developers pitched an upscale mall to the City of Fayetteville in hopes it would annex, rezone, and offer utilities to the property that is now occupied by Fayette Pavilion, but a group of protesting residents, primarily from the Pine Trail neighborhood behind what is now Office Depot, rejected the idea of an enclosed mall, saying it would bring horrific amounts of crime and vehicle traffic to the area.

Fayette County could have had its own mall to compete with Union City’s Shannon and Morrow’s Southlake, but instead it got Fayette Pavilion. As it turns out, that may have been a good thing for Fayette County and especially for Fayetteville.

The commercial sprawl with its uptick in crime and traffic still happened, but Fayette Pavilion turned out to be a better solution in the long run. Ever since the mid to late 1990s, enclosed malls have been struggling and shuttering coast-to-coast in the United States. Some experts say the mega mall era, which boomed in post-World War II suburbs around the county, has come to a halt.

Here on Atlanta’s south side, Shannon Mall, or Union Station Mall as it was more recently called, was built to pick up customers Southlake Mall a few miles to the east left on the table. Both were built in the 1970s, and both were situated directly on interstate exits, leaving shoppers little motivation to continue northbound into Atlanta.

However, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, suburban sprawl saw families moving even further away from Atlanta, which gave retail developers the opportunity to offer mall alternatives closer to home. Now, according to Sean Posey of national think tank Hampton Institution, shopping malls “are slowly fading away from the middle class areas of the country.

“Shopping malls will, of course, not entirely exit stage left,” Posey continued. “They remain popular among the moneyed classes.”

So, in a twist of fate, Fayetteville dodged a bullet being fired by the likes of its very own Fayette Pavilion.

Union City is landing on its feet, though. Monday’s announcement that Atlanta-based Rooker will develop a 240,000 square-foot film and television studio on the site of the old mall, which closed for good in 2010, was met with rousing approval from Mayor Vince Williams and pretty much everyone with a financial stake in Union City.

“We couldn’t be happier to have one of the largest studio facilities in the state call Union City home,” Williams said.

Southlake Mall was teetering, too, especially after one of its founding anchors JC Penney left the scene a little more than three years ago. However, up and coming staffing firm Chime Solutions in June announced it will take over the JC Penney part of the mall and turn it into a mega call center. More than 1,000 new, moderately paid jobs have been promised to the local area, which Clayton County officials tout as a real shot in the arm to their future tax digest and local economy.

Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.