Northgate Mall in Durham, NC – A Journey Through Time and Transformation

Northgate Mall: A Brief Overview

Northgate Mall was a regional shopping mall in Durham, North Carolina, strategically located off Interstate 85 and Gregson Street.

Situated between the Trinity Park and Walltown neighborhoods, the mall enjoyed the proximity to Duke University and downtown Durham. In addition, it had once been a bustling retail center, attracting shoppers across the region.

Over the years however, the mall faced numerous challenges, from increased competition to a changing retail landscape. As a result, the mall underwent several transformations and tenant shifts to adapt and maintain its relevance.

Northgate Mall’s story is a testament to the constantly evolving nature of retail spaces and the need for adaptability in the face of shifting consumer preferences and market conditions.

The Rise of Northgate Mall

The early years of Northgate Mall date back to 1960 when it was opened as a traditional open-air strip shopping center by W. Kenan Rand. Original tenants included Colonial Stores, Roses, Kerr Drug, and eventually, a cinema in 1962.

To counter competition from other enclosed shopping centers, the mall added Sears and Thalhimers department stores in 1973, along with an indoor enclosure connecting them.

In 1986, the mall expanded with the relocation of Thalhimers to a newer store and additional shop spaces. A food court was added the following year, while some original tenants moved to the newly built strip-style plaza, “The Shops at Northgate.”

Throughout the 1990s, the mall saw several changes, including the relocation of Hecht’s and the opening of Hudson Belk. Measurement Incorporated, an educational assessment company, also had its base in the mall’s basement before moving to its office space.

Changing Tenant Mix

In the 2000s, the tenant mix began shifting from national chains to smaller, locally-owned businesses due to competition from The Streets at Southpoint. In addition, the mall benefited from the demise of South Square Mall, as the competition was farther away with less direct impact on business.

Several changes occurred, such as Belk’s departure in 2005, being replaced by a Phoenix Theaters cineplex, and renovating its wing into an outdoor plaza.

In “The Shops at Northgate,” Harris Teeter closed, and its space was converted into a C&H Cafeteria and a Guitar Center. Meanwhile, Office Depot replaced OfficeMax, which Sky Zone now occupies.

Despite these changes, the mall struggled with crime, including a fatal stabbing in 2007 and several teen violence incidents.

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Northgate Mall’s Struggles and Transformation

Macy’s announced the closure of its Northgate location in 2017 following a disappointing holiday shopping season. This prompted mall officials to work on a master plan to transform Northgate into a multi-use space with office space, fitness, entertainment, and seasonal operations.

Duke Health purchased the former Macy’s space in December 2017, housing its administrative offices and additional medical clinics.

In June 2018, Northwood Investors, a Colorado-based real estate investment firm, acquired the Northgate store from Sears. Northwood signed a lease back agreement to keep Sears in business temporarily and collected two extensive promissory notes from Northgate Associates, valued at $62 million.

Northgate Mall Durham
Northgate Mall Durham” by MikeKalasnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In October, Northwood initiated foreclosure proceedings against the mall’s owners, eventually purchasing the mall from Northgate Associates for $34.5 million in December.

Further Challenges and Closure

Sears announced its closure as part of a nationwide plan to close 80 stores in December 2018, shutting down its Northgate location in March 2019. The former Sears store was a sizeable statewide hurricane shelter during Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.

On May 4, 2020, the Northgate Mall announced its permanent closure, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as the primary reason. Plans to demolish the old mall are pending.

The Future of Northgate Mall

Northwood Investors paid $34.5 million for the mall in 2018 and has plans to redevelop the property into a life sciences campus. The movie theater and some shops across the parking lot anchored by Planet Fitness remain open.

However, the mall’s neighboring residents have opposed the plans, advocating for affordable housing and a walkable complex featuring a grocery store, gathering spaces, and improved stormwater infrastructure.

Northwood must obtain City Council approval for its proposed redevelopment. The company hopes to initiate construction the following year, giving the once-popular Northgate Mall new life.

However, the mall’s future remains uncertain, as the community’s desires and Northwood’s vision must find a compromise to revitalize the area and meet the needs of Durham residents.

Conclusion: The Legacy of Northgate Mall

Ultimately, Northgate Mall’s story serves as a cautionary tale for the retail industry, demonstrating the importance of adapting to changing market conditions and consumer preferences.

As the mall moves forward, its future remains uncertain, with stakeholders, investors, and community members striving to find common ground for its redevelopment.

The fate of Northgate Mall will ultimately depend on the collaboration between Northwood Investors and the local community.

With the right balance of vision, persistence, and community input, the once-popular shopping center could transform into a vibrant, thriving space that meets the evolving needs of Durham residents and leaves a lasting legacy in the city.

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Comments: 2
  1. Avatar of Roni

    It is a shame how these buildings are being “transformed.” I loved shopping at Northgate & Southsquare. The shopping choices we have now are not that great and I hate shopping online & waiting for items to come and it does not look like the items advertised. Oh well, this is the world we live in.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the transformation of Northgate Mall. Change can be difficult, especially when it involves the loss of beloved places and experiences. The rise of online shopping has significantly impacted traditional retail, and many malls have struggled to adapt to the changing landscape. Ultimately, the retail landscape is constantly evolving, and it’s up to each individual to find the shopping experiences that work best for them.

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