The Rise and Fall of Raleigh Springs Mall: A Memphis, TN Saga

The Dawn of Raleigh Springs Mall

The Raleigh Springs Mall opened its doors on August 11, 1971, and it was a significant event for Memphis, Tennessee, at the time. The mall became popular for families in Austin Peay Hwy, near Interstate 40. It offered a variety of activities, from shopping and dining to watching the latest films in its multiplex.

Developed by the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation, it featured about seventy stores. It was a one-stop shop for all your needs, from fashion to electronics. And let’s not forget the twelve-screen multiplex that made weekends much more entertaining.

Four anchor stores were the pillars of this mall: JCPenney, Sears, Dillard’s, and Goldsmith’s. These were the places where you could find anything and everything, from the latest fashion trends to home appliances.

But it wasn’t all about shopping. The mall was a social hub where friends met for coffee and families spent quality time together. It was a community space that brought people closer; for many, it was a significant part of their lives.

So, what made Raleigh Springs Mall stand out? Well, it was one of the first two shopping malls in Memphis. It set the standard for what a shopping mall should offer. It was more than a collection of stores; it was a lifestyle destination.

And let’s not forget the theater. Unfortunately, it closed in December 2011. Ah, the nostalgia! But as they say, all good things must come to an end.

The Mall’s Golden Years and Challenges

The Raleigh Springs Mall was the place to be in its early years. It was the dominant mall in Memphis, overshadowing others like Hickory Ridge Mall and Mall of Memphis. But as time passed, Raleigh Springs Mall started to lose its shine.

Raleigh Springs Mall
Raleigh Springs Mall” by Sean Davis is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Stores began to close, and the mall looked like a shadow of its former self. Dillard’s was among the first to announce its closure in early 2003. Goldsmith’s followed suit, and by April of the same year, it was gone, too.

JCPenney was next in line. It didn’t just close; it was downgraded to an outlet center. That left Sears as the only anchor store; let’s be honest, it was like a ship without a sail.

The mall was losing its tenants, and something had to be done. In 2005, Walmart began negotiations to open a Supercenter at the mall. The plan was to demolish the former JCPenney space and the mall’s movie theater to make room for the Supercenter.

But those plans never saw the light of day. Walmart decided to stay at its current location and even started renovating it in early 2010. By this time, Raleigh Springs Mall was gasping for air, and it was clear that its days were numbered.

Failed Revival Attempts

So, what happened next? Well, attempts were made to revive the mall, but none succeeded. Walmart’s negotiations to open a Supercenter fell through, which was a significant blow. The mall needed something big to draw people back; Walmart could have been that big.

In January 2011, Sears confirmed that it would close its location in the mall on April 3, 2011. That was the final nail in the coffin. The mall was left without anchor stores, like a town without a mayor.

The mall was struggling, and it was evident to everyone. The once bustling corridors were now empty, and an eerie silence replaced the vibrant atmosphere. It was a sad sight; for those who grew up going to Raleigh Springs Mall, it was like losing an old friend.

But wait, there’s a silver lining. The City of Memphis had plans for the mall to give it a new lease on life. In November 2016, the city officially purchased the Raleigh Springs Mall property. It was the end of an era but also the beginning of something new.

The End of Raleigh Springs Mall

The mall closed its doors for good on November 18, 2016. It was a bittersweet moment for many. The place that had been a part of so many lives was now history. But as one door closes, another opens. The City of Memphis had big plans for the site.

The city demolished the mall and redeveloped the space into a civic center. It was a bold move that promised to breathe new life into the area. The Raleigh Community Council supported the project designed by OT Marshall Architects.

Construction began in 2017, with a projected opening in fall 2020. The redevelopment was about building structures and creating a space serving the community. The area offers various services and amenities, making it a helpful place in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Birth of Raleigh Springs Civic Center

Fast forward to today, and the Raleigh Springs Civic Center is a reality. Opened in the fall of 2020, it’s a multi-acre civic center that houses the Memphis Police Department Old Allen Precinct, Union Avenue Traffic Division, and the Raleigh Library.

But it’s not all about official stuff. The civic center also features a pond with a scenic walking trail open to the public. For those who love skateboarding, there’s a skate park on site. And for book lovers, the Raleigh Library has an observation deck overlooking the 11-acre pond.

The road leading into the civic center is named Morrison Drive in honor of Bill Morrison, a member of the Memphis City Council who championed the project. It’s a fitting tribute to someone who believed in the area’s potential.

The civic center was officially inaugurated on November 19, 2020. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was broadcast online because of the continuing COVID-19 situation. It was a momentous occasion, marking the rebirth of a site that had been a significant part of Memphis for decades.

The Civic Center Amidst a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the Raleigh Springs Civic Center as well. Construction was slowed down, especially for the new Raleigh Library. But despite the challenges, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held.

The ceremony was a virtual affair, live-streamed for the community by The City of Memphis. It was a moment that marked the official opening of the civic center and a moment of pride for everyone involved.

The pandemic also affected the number of people who could attend the ceremony. It was a small gathering, but the excitement was palpable. The civic center was finally open, a new beginning for the Raleigh community.

Raleigh Springs Mall
Raleigh Springs Mall” by Thomas R Machnitzki is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The Artistic Side of Raleigh Springs Civic Center

Art plays a significant role in the Raleigh Springs Civic Center. The Great Wall of Raleigh mural was created, featuring art from local artists. It’s a project that aims to celebrate the culture and history of the area.

Community art pieces can be seen along the walking path beside the retention pond. It’s a way to integrate art into the community, making it a part of everyday life.

Inside the library and the police precinct, you’ll find more works by local artists. It’s a testament to the talent in the community and a way to make art accessible to everyone.

So, the next time you’re in the area, take a moment to appreciate the art. It’s not just about looking at pretty pictures; it’s about understanding the story behind each piece. It’s about celebrating the culture and history of Raleigh and Memphis.

Conclusion

The Raleigh Springs Mall was more than a shopping center; it was a part of Memphis history. Its transformation into the Raleigh Springs Civic Center is a testament to the resilience and vision of the community. It’s a place that serves the public, offering various amenities and services.

It’s also a place that celebrates art and culture, making it a hub for the community. So, the next time you’re looking for something to do, why not visit the Raleigh Springs Civic Center? It’s a place that offers something for everyone, and it’s a place that’s steeped in history.

The site has come a long way, from a bustling mall to a civic center that serves the community. It’s a story of rise, fall, and rebirth, and it’s a story that’s far from over.

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Comments: 2
  1. Avatar of Jim Ward
    Jim Ward

    The one truth missing here is why did Dillard’s and the others close in the first place. The answer is shoplifting. That and youth disturbances in the parking lot at night on a regular basis. Throw in that single women were more and more afraid to shop there legitimately so and you have closure. Then, the very people who were guilty of all the problems started to complain they had no place to shop, etc. Of course, as usual, the City looked the other way and created a place to spend taxpayer dollars. Go figure ………

    Reply
    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      I agree that safety concerns have a significant impact on businesses. It’s a cycle that’s hard to break but not impossible with the right community and city involvement.

      Reply
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