The Birth and Early Flourish
Macon Mall opened its doors in 1975, a beacon of modernity and style in Macon, Georgia. Anchored by Sears, JCPenney, Belk, and Davison’s, it was a place where families gathered, teenagers hung out, and memories were made. The mall’s original disco-style theme, filled with hundreds of light bulbs, was a sight to behold, reflecting the vibrant energy of the era.
However, this appearance quickly became dated and expensive to maintain. 1983 the mall underwent its first renovation, shedding its disco glamour for a more contemporary look.
The food court was added in 1986, providing a new gathering spot for shoppers. Around the same time, Davison’s changed to Macy’s, marking the beginning of a series of transformations that would shape the mall’s identity.
With the opening of Macon Mall, Georgia’s first enclosed shopping center, Westgate Mall, located just down the street, met its downfall. It was a sign of progress, a symbol of Macon’s growth, and a testament to the ever-changing retail landscape.
A New Era of Growth and Grandeur
For 20 years, Macon Mall stood as one of the largest malls in Georgia. In 1997, a massive renovation and expansion nearly doubled the mall’s size, adding Dillard’s and Parisian as anchors. The development of Macon Mall elevated it to the status of the largest mall in Georgia, a distinction it maintained with pride for two years until the Mall of Georgia opened its doors in 1999.
The expansion brought an upscale touch to the mall, adding 40+ new stores and making it a premier shopping destination. Two parking garages were constructed to accommodate the increase in business, and an extra level was added to the food court, introducing popular eateries like Atlanta Bread Company and Sbarro.
The expansion of Macon Mall transcended mere growth in size and the addition of new stores; it symbolized a strategic adaptation to contemporary trends and a proactive stance against competitors. The mall’s transformation reflected the community’s aspirations and the evolving tastes of its patrons.
Macon Mall Challenges and the Onset of Decline
The winds of change began to blow in 2006 when Belk bought Parisian and closed in 2007. The mall entered foreclosure in 2008, a sign of the challenging times ahead. The opening of The Shoppes at River Crossing in North Bibb County took Dillard’s from Macon Mall, a move many speculated was due to the mall’s debt issues.
With two anchor stores now vacant, the mall’s performance deteriorated rapidly. In 2009, a ripple effect ensued as many tenants, including prominent brands like Ann Taylor Loft, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Eddie Bauer, began to leave the mall. Some moved to The Shoppes at River Crossing, while others left the Macon area entirely.
The departure of retailers directly resulted from various factors, including Dillard’s vacancy, new competition, poor location, and a weakened economy. It was a period of uncertainty when the once-thriving mall began showing signs of distress.
Reinvention and Structural Changes
In the fall of 2010, Hull Storey Gibson, based in Augusta, Georgia, became the new owner of Macon Mall. They had ambitious plans to demolish the east wing of the mall and renovate the original and remaining portion. The demolition began on August 15, 2011, a symbolic and practical process.
The renovation was revealed in a two-day celebration in November 2011. Notable changes included carpeting the whole mall, installing new skylights and ceilings, upgrading restrooms, and removing the carousel. The former Dillard’s building was untouched, a silent witness to the mall’s past glory.
Despite the efforts to revitalize the mall, some tenants chose to leave, including Sunglass Hut, Victoria’s Secret, and American Eagle Outfitters. The demolition and renovation marked a new chapter in the mall’s history, but the challenges were far from over.
A Continued Struggle and Loss
The decline continued as more tenants left the mall, including Yankee Candle, Express, Chick-Fil-A, Hot Topic, and Subway. In 2015, Burlington Coat Factory moved into the upper level of the former Sears, a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape.
JCPenney officially closed in 2017, followed by Macy’s in 2020, leaving Burlington as the only anchor store. Vacancies began multiplying as establishments such as Marks & Morgan Jewelers and Men’s Wearhouse & Tux shut down. The once-vibrant food court at Macon Mall gradually lost its appeal.
The mall’s interior became a shadow of its former self, where echoes of laughter and chatter were replaced by silence and emptiness. The once-bustling shopping center was now a reminder of what used to be, a place where memories lingered, but time had moved on.
Revitalization and a Vision for the Future
On September 15, 2021, a new dawn broke for Macon Mall. A significant announcement came from Macon-Bibb County when Hull Property Group’s donation of the mall was revealed, along with Mayor Lester Miller’s introduction of a $100 million investment plan to rejuvenate the mall and construct a new amphitheater.
The plans were ambitious and forward-thinking, aiming to breathe new life into the Eisenhower Parkway corridor. The redevelopment includes seating for up to 10,000 in the amphitheater and space for Central Georgia Technical College and Middle Georgia State University. Perhaps most exciting is the plan to create the area’s world’s largest Pickleball facility.
Since the announcement, several retailers have expressed interest in nearby shopping centers, and the city has announced plans for a Casino hotel and a new restaurant plaza called “Mac-Town.” The future looks bright, and the mall’s transformation is a testament to the resilience and vision of the community.
Macon Mall’s journey from a bustling shopping center to a dead mall and now to a promising redevelopment project is a story of change, challenges, and hope. It reflects the broader trends in retail, the shifts in consumer behavior, and the ever-changing dynamics of community and commerce.
The mall’s history is intertwined with the lives of those who have shopped, worked, and spent time there. It’s a place where memories are made, friendships are forged, and experiences are shared.
As Macon Mall embarks on a new chapter, it carries the legacy of the past and the promise of the future. It’s a story that continues to unfold, a narrative that resonates with the people of Macon, and a symbol of a community that continues to evolve and thrive.