Memphis Considers Options for Raleigh Springs Mall

By Amos Maki

The city of Memphis is considering acquiring the Raleigh Springs Mall site as part of a civic-driven effort to revive the former retail hub.

“We’re going to explore every option we have, but yes, that is certainly an option,” said City Council member Bill Morrison, whose district includes the area.

A lone worker chips away at the remains of the former JCPenney store at Raleigh Springs Mall. The city of Memphis is considering acquiring the mall and investing public resources to attract private investment.

(Andrew J. Breig)

“The original dream plan was somebody would come in and buy it and we could team up and work on it, but that hasn’t happened.”

Local officials have grown tired of the beleaguered mall’s condition and the negative impact it is having on Raleigh.

“We just can’t wait and we need to move forward with what we’re doing,” Morrison said.

The main thrust of the city plan is geared toward using public resources – such as a library, police station and traffic division, walking trails, a skateboard park and other improvements – to attract private investment.

“We’re looking at the civic side and would that attract retailers,” said Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb.

But acquiring the mall site and making public improvements to lure investment would involve a maze of city divisions and properties at a time when the city’s finances have come under intense scrutiny.

“This is a very, very complex deal that has tons of moving parts,” Morrison said.

The mall, anchor stores and some of the parking lot areas have multiple owners.

In May, a Monaco-based group, acting as two Delaware-based limited liability corporations, acquired the JCPenney’s site and another parcel just south of it for around $2.1 million. Sears still owns its property on the southern end of the mall.

Morrison said the plan under consideration would use capital funds that already have been budgeted or are already planned and that the city could sell off properties it owns in the area if new city facilities are built at the mall site.

For instance, if the city built a new traffic division at the mall, it could sell the old Schnucks site at Austin Peay Highway and Yale Road it acquired for the traffic division relocation. Or if a new library is built there, the city could sell the existing library property near the Kmart farther south on Austin Peay.

“I’ve been very careful not to expand the capital budget,” Morrison said.

The vacant anchor stores and unfinished demolition of the JCPenney store have been painful reminders to the residents and business owners on the city’s northern edge of the faded glory of the retail center – and in some ways, the area around it.

“That’s my No. 1 constituent complaint, Raleigh Springs Mall,” said state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “It’s been killing the property values in the area and keeping businesses out of here. The community deserves better than that.”

Built in 1971, Raleigh Springs Mall was one of the city’s first two shopping malls, with the other being Southland Mall. The mall, developed by the former Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., one of the leaders of U.S. mall design and construction, remained a citywide draw for years, with anchor stores Sears, JCPenney, Goldsmith’s and Dillard’s.

But the vitality of the mall began to change as more and more shopping options became available.

One by one, the anchor stores began to close in the early part of the decade, mortally wounding the once-thriving retail destination.

Sears, the last remaining anchor store, announced in 2011 that it was closing, and demolition of the vacant JCPenney store began in 2012.

Lipscomb said the mall is a crucial piece of stitching together a brighter future for Raleigh.

“It’s a huge anchor for the whole community, which is a great community,” Lipscomb said. “You have to show the community you care.”