Hilldale Shopping Center in Madison, WI: The Transformation of Beloved Mall

Welcome to Madison, Wisconsin, where community spirit thrives, cheese curds are a delicacy, and Badger pride runs deep. Tucked away on the west side of this bustling city, you’ll find Hilldale Shopping Center or simply Hilldale.

A vibrant retail and entertainment hub, Hilldale is a testament to Madison’s thriving economy and the evolution of community spaces over time.

Origins of Hilldale Shopping Center: The Birth of a Shopping Landmark

Hilldale Shopping Center wasn’t always the bustling, partially enclosed shopping mall it is today. Then, in the early 1950s, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Board of Regents formed a plan to sell 600 acres of University Hill Farms land to an expanding city of Madison.

This land was part of the School of Agriculture’s farm and was earmarked to become a neighborhood known as Hill Farms.

Kelab Inc. was formed in 1958 to oversee the operation of the 33-acre shopping center. However, construction was put on hold in 1960 due to a lawsuit filed by Glendale Development against Hilldale Inc., Kelab Inc., and the Board of Regents.

This legal battle went to the United States Supreme Court, which ultimately refused to review the suit in 1961.

With the legal hurdles out of the way, Hilldale Shopping Center finally opened its doors on October 25, 1962, with a Gimbels department store as its anchor tenant.

Hilldale Shopping Center
Hilldale Shopping Center” by Corey Coyle is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Transformations Through the Decades: Hilldale’s Evolution

Over the years, Hilldale Shopping Center has undergone several changes. In 1986, the Gimbels store was converted to a Marshall Field’s, later rebranded as Macy’s in 2006.

Hilldale’s structure was also expanded and renovated in 1969, 1985, and 1997, keeping pace with the changing demands of Madison’s residents.

Between 1983 and 2004, Hilldale Shopping Center was more than just a shopping center – it was a cultural hub. Every Memorial Day weekend, the parking lot was transformed into a grilling and seating area for Brat Fest. This event has since grown and moved to the larger Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center.

Hilldale Shopping Center
Hilldale Shopping Center” by an Unknown author is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The turn of the Century brought significant changes to Hilldale Shopping Center. 2004 Joseph Freed and Associates LLC acquired the property and embarked on a substantial redevelopment and expansion project in 2006.

The refurbishment included the erection of two multi-level parking ramps, a strip of additional free-standing restaurants and stores, and a row of townhouses in the front portion of the mall.

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This period also saw the arrival of Sundance Cinemas, with Hilldale Shopping Center being the first national location chosen for this new cinema concept. Sundance Cinemas 608, named for Madison’s area code, opened on May 11, 2007, adding a unique element to Hilldale’s offering.

Despite these positive changes, Hilldale faced financial challenges and fell into foreclosure in 2011. A year later, Massachusetts-based WS Development purchased the shopping center and breathed new life into it by transforming it into an open-air space.

Hilldale Shopping Center Today and Tomorrow: A Bright Future

Today, Hilldale Shopping Center is a thriving lifestyle center with over 40 specialty stores, including the Apple Store, Metcalfe’s Market, Hollander Cafe, and Shake Shack.

Unfortunately, AMC Madison 6 cinema closed last November. This closure marks the end of an era. Its transition over the years, and its ultimate role as host of the 2023 Wisconsin Film Festival, when it reopened for one week in April, will remain an integral part of Hilldale’s cinematic history.

But Hilldale isn’t just resting on its laurels. In May 2023, the Madison Common Council approved rezoning the shopping center, paving the way for an exciting expansion. As Hilldale continues to evolve, one thing remains constant: its commitment to serving the Madison community and being a place where memories are made.

Conclusion: Hilldale’s Legacy and Promise

From its humble beginnings as part of a university farm to its current status as a vibrant shopping center, Hilldale has been a pillar of the Madison community for over six decades. It has weathered lawsuits, transformations, financial challenges, and changes in ownership, emerging stronger with each hurdle.

Today, Hilldale is a testament to Madison’s spirit of resilience and innovation. With an exciting expansion on the horizon, Hilldale’s journey is far from over. So here’s to many more years of shopping, entertainment, and community connection at Hilldale Shopping Center in Wisconsin!

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