The Rise and Fall of Century Plaza: A Birmingham Shopping Landmark
Century Plaza was a contemporary-style, two-level enclosed shopping mall on a 65-acre site at the intersection of Crestwood Boulevard and Oporto Road in the Eastwood area of Birmingham.
The mall spanned 750,000 square feet and was constructed for $25 million.
Crawford, Giattina & Mitchel architects with light brown brick exterior walls, brown tiled floors, open stairways, angular fountains, and bronze glass partitions designed it.
Engel Realty Company developed the mall with Marvin Engel, Jerome Leader, and James R. Bennett as executives in charge.
The Sears store was the first to be built and opened on September 25, 1974. The mall officially opened in August 1975, with thousands of cash-filled balloons.
Century Plaza was initially famous and had four anchor department stores: Sears, JCPenney, Loveman’s, and Rich’s.
It outshone the nearby Eastwood Mall, reaching its peak popularity in the 1980s. In 1990, the mall underwent an interior remodeling, with brighter finishes and more skylights.
In the 1990s, the mall was acquired by General Growth Properties for a sum of $32 million.
However, in 2006, two anchor stores, JC Penney and McRae’s/Belk, relocated to newer shopping centers in Trussville, which marked the beginning of the mall’s decline.
The mall ultimately closed on May 31, 2009, with the last anchor store, Sears, closing on June 14. The mall was torn down in 2020.
Over 2.4 million cubic yards of earth were excavated during the development, with much of it used to construct nearby interstate highways.
Attempts to renovate the Century Plaza mall
General Growth has discussed plans for a significant redevelopment of Century Plaza since 2006.
The “Crestwood-Oporto District Redevelopment Plan” envisions a mixed-use retail and residential center.
In 2008, Birmingham’s mayor proposed turning the mall into a senior citizens’ recreation center.
An Aldi food market opened in 2009 on an out parcel facing Crestwood Boulevard.
Talks in 2010 about converting the mall into a jail or municipal justice center stalled due to a lack of public interest and funding.
In 2011, the Howard Hughes Corporation renewed the discussion of creating a municipal justice center.
By 2014, the building was deteriorating, and the owner had erected a safety barricade.
In 2017, a church announced plans to relocate to the former mall and establish a charter school.
In 2018, the property was purchased and redeveloped for a mini-storage business.
In 2020, a proposal to demolish the mall and construct an Amazon delivery center was approved, and demolition began on November 12.
Redevelopment into Amazon Delivery Center
A New Chapter for Century Plaza
In the wake of its closure in 2009, Century Plaza Mall in Birmingham, Alabama, stood dormant, a once-thriving hub of commerce reduced to a silent monument of retail’s bygone era.
However, in a dramatic shift reflecting the evolving landscape of commerce and logistics, the site began a transformative journey in 2020.
The old mall, a symbol of 20th-century retail, was earmarked to become a cutting-edge Amazon delivery center, a development emblematic of the 21st-century digital economy.
Project Inception and Development
The redevelopment project, dubbed “Project Magic,” was initiated by the Atlanta-based Stonemont Financial Group.
Their vision was demolishing the former shopping mall and constructing a 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art logistics center.
With its modern, single-story building featuring concrete walls and glass features at the entry, this facility was designed to be a nexus for Amazon’s last-mile delivery operations.
The project promised to infuse vitality into the Eastwood neighborhood, with over 320 associates and managers working on-site and more than 1,400 delivery drivers operating to and from the property.
Challenges and Approvals
The journey towards redevelopment was not without its challenges. Stonemont and the City of Birmingham initially kept the potential tenant’s identity under wraps, though reports suggested Amazon as the likely occupant.
The Birmingham City Council played a pivotal role in moving the project forward, approving a crucial rezoning of the property.
This decision came after a narrow vote against rezoning by the Eastwood Neighborhood Association, prompting project representatives to take steps to alleviate local concerns.
Impact and Significance
The Amazon delivery center is a testament to the changing face of retail and the growing dominance of e-commerce.
This transformation from a traditional shopping mall to a logistics hub is a story of architectural metamorphosis and a reflection of broader economic and societal shifts.
It represents a transition from traditional brick-and-mortar retail to the digital age of e-commerce, highlighting the dynamic nature of commercial landscapes.
This development revitalizes a once-abandoned space and brings new employment opportunities and economic activity to the Birmingham area, marking a significant chapter in the city’s ongoing story of growth and change.
Remembering the Holiday Magic of Century Plaza Mall in Birmingham
For many Alabama residents, the name Century Plaza Mall in Birmingham evokes warm memories of past holiday seasons.
Then, the mall was a hub of festive activity, from last-minute shopping frenzies to the excitement of sharing Christmas wishes with Santa.
One of the most beloved traditions at Century Plaza was the presence of Jingles the Talking Bear, a friendly, life-sized teddy bear that delighted visitors of all ages with his playful banter.
Even though the mall has been closed for over a decade, many people still reminisce about their good times with Jingles.
Sadly, like all things, the holiday magic of Century Plaza ended. The mall closed its doors for good in 2009, and in 2020, the building was finally demolished.
For those who grew up with the mall as a cherished part of their holiday traditions, the demolition was a poignant moment, marking the end of an era and the loss of a beloved landmark.
As the walls of Century Plaza came down, memories flooded back of the countless Christmas trees, holiday displays, and festive decorations that once graced the space.
For many, it felt as though the spirit of Christmas had been forever encapsulated within the mall’s walls, a testament to the enduring power of holiday traditions and the joy they bring to families across generations.
Although the physical structure of Century Plaza may be gone, the memories and traditions it inspired will live on for years to come.
They remind us of the special magic that only comes once a year and the cherished moments we create with loved ones during the holiday season.