12 November 2023

CoolSprings Galleria, Franklin, TN

An extant asset

In the early nineties, we were tightly packed on an old yellow school bus motoring or way up I-65 on our way from the Huntsville area to Nashville.  We were on a high school field trip with our ultimate destination being Vanderbilt University.  As we passed through Nashville’s suburban neighbor Franklin, I noticed an extensive construction site right off of the freeway to our left.  I found out later that the mounds of cleared earth and rising steel skeleton was what would one day be CoolSprings Galleria.

CoolSprings Galleria Mallmanac, ca. 1996.  View the full PDF version here.

Located just a few miles south of Nashville’s oldest mall, 100 Oaks, I usually made a point to visit both on my many trips 100 miles to the north.  I finally got to see CoolSprings Galleria’s bi-level concourses for myself later in the mid-nineties and it was everything you would expect from a mall built during that era.  Extensive, shaded barrel skylights hanging above our heads.  Pastel ceramic tiles underfoot.  And the mezzanines between the bottom and top levels were lined with mauve and blue protruding half-circle shaped design elements, which for some reason are what I remember most about CoolSprings in those early days.

Sears and the main mall entrance in 1996.

CoolSprings Galleria opened in 1991 in a location that was then just on the southern fringes of Nashville’s urban area.  It was developed by Chattanooga based CBL Properties in partnership with DeBartolo.  The original anchors were Sears, Dillard’s and Nashville based Castner-Knott, whose massive store on the mall’s north end, with it’s darkened glass entranceways and horizontal pin stripes, punctuated the visual impact of the modern new shopping facility.  Parisian and JCPenney were added not long after.

Hecht's and JCPenney in 1996.

As the years went on, the area surrounding CoolSprings grew tremendously.  The fields were replaced with suburban high rise office buildings while acres of new retail sprung up where soybeans used to grow.  Now the entire area is fully urbanized, with Nashville’s urban outskirts now reaching all the way down to Columbia.  Castner-Knott went through several name changes, from Proffitt’s to Hecht’s to Macy’s today, while Parisian was taken over by Belk.

CoolSprings Galleria lease plan, ca. 2021.  View the full PDF version here.

Sears closed their location on the mall’s southern end in 2013.  The bottom level was soon occupied by Belk and rebuilt as their men’s and kids’ store but the upper level was completely demolished to make way for an outdoor “lifestyle center” expansion, featuring H&M and American Girl.  It’s rare to see a shopping mall today with so many anchors and none of them vacant.  Only the most viable shopping malls in a market can boast this, and along with the Mall at Green Hills, CoolSprings is among the top dogs of Nashville’s retail scene.

The newer entrance design for CoolSprings Galleria (Source)

Over the years, previous retail stalwarts such as Hickory Hollow Mall, Harding Mall and Rivergate Mall have seen their timely ends.  But CoolSprings Galleria is one example of why I think malls will not ever be completely obsolete.  Right now, we are just seeing a major cull of all of the overbuilt retail establishments.  Once a proper and sustainable number of enclosed shopping centers has been reached, we’ll probably see a lot less churn.  And I would be more than confident in saying that CoolSprings Galleria will be one of the ones left.

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