09 May 2013

Parkway Place, Huntsville, AL

An extant asset

28 January 2023

Parkway Place is a unique, well, place.


The Parkway Place Grand Opening pull-out from The Huntsville Times, 2002. View the full PDF version here.

Why do I say this?  Well, usually when an enclosed shopping mall is demolished and replaced with another retail facility, that replacement would be in a different format such as a power or a "lifestyle" center.  Parkway Place was a rarity in that one traditional, fully enclosed shopping center was completely demolished and replaced with another fully enclosed facility.

1- The dome takes shape during the mall's construction with Dillard's in the background. 2- The already open Parisian waits for the rest of the mall to follow its lead.  3- Popular Parisian is open for business. 4- One of the rear entrances to the mall takes shape.

Parkway Place was also one of the last retail facilities to be built in the United States as a fully traditional shopping mall.  By that, I mean that it had no junior or big box anchors, only full line department stores, and no outdoor elements of any kind.  All stores (until Carrabba's was added in the mid 2000's) were accessible from the interior concourse.  Parkway Place was also built at the right moment.  Had it been conceived just a year later than it was, I'm sure it would have been built as another lazy outdoor "lifestyle" center.  With its perfect timing, the Huntsville market got one hell of a retail gem; and one of the last of its kind to be built. 

Parkway Place Mallmanac ca. 2004. View the full PDF version here.

Parkway Place is the result of a bullet well dodged.  In the nineties, a huge new mall called Green Cove was proposed for extreme south Huntsville.  Very extreme.  The location was far from the metro's center of population.  Had the 1.5 million square foot behemoth been built, Parkway City Mall would have surely died a quick and unceremonious death only to be replaced with a Wal-Mart Supercenter or some other abomination.

1- Finally, the mall has opened! A view of its signature dome and Dillard's. 2- Parisian before its upmarket image was spoiled in a buyout by Belk.

Then came the collapse of the economy in the aughts.  I really can’t see how Green Cove, with its isolated location abutting the Redstone Arsenal and with the Tennessee River just to its south would have survived.  Residential development at the time wasn’t nearly as swift as it is today and there was minimal room for growth in the vicinity.  I think it's not crazy to say that, by now, we would have lost both Parkway City and Green Cove.  Huntsville's retail market would have been glutted with vacancies.

-UPDATE- 1 to 4- The front exterior of Parkway Place is highlighted by the copper dome.  5- The entrance to Belk, the former Parisian store.  6- An entranceway in the rear of the mall.

Parkway Place was built as a replacement for the venerable old Parkway City Mall, a shopping center that had occupied the site since 1957, opening as the first large shopping destination in the budding city, Parkway Center.  Even though the former incarnation had been experiencing years of decline, its anchors McRae's, Parisian and Dillard's were still strong performers and the location was unbeatable.

-UPDATE- 1 & 2- The food court.  3 & 4- The distinctive ceiling over the center of the mall.  5- Looking back toward the main entrance.  6- The bottom level entranceway.

Parkway Place was designed to be a middle market to upscale center, bringing many retailers previously not located in Huntsville, with a few opening their first locations in the state.  Because of the site's limited acreage, it would be built with two levels and a parking deck on the Memorial Parkway side.  Its compact footprint gave it the appearance of urban centers usually found in larger cities, like The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville or Pearlridge Center (minus the monorail) in Hawai'i.

UPDATE- Parkway Place Lease Plan ca. 2021. View the full PDF version here

This was the first time I was ever able to witness a mall's being built in every stage from the groundbreaking through the grand opening.  It was built in a couple of phases, which allowed Parkway City legacies Parisian and Piccadilly Cafeteria to operate without interruption.  The northern third of the mall, where Montgomery Ward once stood, was demolished first.  In its place, the new Parisian was built along with a small section of the mall for Piccadilly.  The section of the car park immediately fronting Parisian was also built.  Once those businesses opened, the rest of the old mall was shuttered, demolished, and the balance of the new mall was erected.  This included a new Dillard's on the south end and the majority of the deck.  It's also apparent when looking on the flanking side of the mall that there is space for a third anchor to be added just off of center court.  As successful as the mall is, however, I doubt that one may ever go up.  What with the economy the way it is and all, as well as anchor consolidation.

-UPDATE- The Parkway Place main corridor.

As soon as the copper dome was installed on the main entrance, it became a landmark in Huntsville.  I watched intently as the mall took shape, anticipating its opening with the glee of a child or a weird retail nerd.  I'd shop at Parisian and look forlornly at the wall which would one day be their mall entrance and just imagine how magnificent it would be when the brand-new mall taking shape behind that barrier finally opened.  Then one day, about a month before the official opening of the mall, the sheetrock blocking the view of the mall's concourse from Parisian was removed.  What I saw through that glass was a beautiful and unspoiled combination of muted earth tones with red highlights, carpeted floor sections and inviting soft seating areas.  It was exceptionally early 2000s.

-UPDATE- The Parkway Place interior.

The addition of Parkway Place and its unique retailers was a game changer in Huntsville.  Madison Square lost its status as the market's commercial juggernaut while the smaller yet more impressive facility stole shoppers in droves.  It instantly became my preferred place to shop, and I was definitely not alone.  Since its opening, another new mall has been added to Huntsville, the open-air Bridge Street Towne Center, and while Madison Square Mall continues to spiral downward, it seems that the two newer centers coexist nicely.  And I really hope it stays that way.

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