27 May 2024

Eastgate Town Center, Chattanooga, TN

A relic of retail

I got to know the road pretty well between Virginia Beach, Virginia and Huntsville, Alabama in the late eighties as we made the trek many times during the process of moving from one place to the other.  I always looked forward to the bigger cities we would pass through, as most of the time there was nothing more to see than cows and trees.

1- Eastgate Mall’s layout around its opening.  2- Eastgate Mall in the eighties.

Our normal route would take us through cities like Durham and Greensboro in North Carolina and Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee.  I would look forward to sneaking peaks at some of their larger malls just off of the interstate.  I got to know Northgate Mall, Four Seasons Town Center, West Towne Mall and Hamilton Place quite well.  But the one that intrigued me the most was the very last one we’d pass before arriving at our destination.

1- The new Eastgate Town Center’s main entrance under renovation in 2003.  2- The main stage.

Just past Chattanooga’s Hamilton Place, we would pass a low slung, fairly tired looking old shopping mall right at the split between I-24 and I-75.  Most prominently displayed was the seventies Penny’s logo on what looked to be one of the only two story parts of the rectangular structure.  This was the Eastgate Mall.

1- The west parking lot and the former Penny’s building.  2- A renovated entrance.  3- The former Loveman’s store.  4- The former JCPenney building.

I only got to visit Eastgate once during its existence as a single use retail destination in the early nineties.  Like it’s peers among the first generation of the shopping mall, the main corridor, running primarily north to south, was adorned in dark tile with minimal natural light and the rest artificially and dimly provided.  Even though I love the broodiness of these first generations, for some reason I remember Eastgate to be rather chaotic and uninviting.

The old and new façade of Eastgate Town Center.

Not long after my visit, Eastgate would be going through a conversion.  One of the first of its kind to happen to what was once a shopping mall, the new owners announced that the facility would be brightened up and turned into a mixed-use center.  Being one of the first to make this pivot, for many years Eastgate served as a case study in what to do with these massive monoliths once their lives as a retail oriented destination have ended.

Eastgate Town Center lease plan ca. 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

Eastgate Center, as it was originally known, debuted in late 1962 as the city’s first major suburban retail development.  Open air at the time, the original anchors were Miller Brothers and a Winn-Dixie supermarket.  A second phase, adding Loveman’s (of Tennessee) and JCPenney opened soon after in 1965.  With this expansion, it became Tennessee’s largest mall until supplanted by Nashville’s 100 Oaks in 1968.

1- Former exterior facing mall stores.  2 to 6- The renovated corridors of Eastgate Town Center.

Newly named Eastgate Mall was enclosed in 1972 to compete better with the recently opened Northgate Mall across the river.  The two co-existed for more than a decade, with Proffitt’s taking over the Loveman’s space during this time and Miller Brothers being rebranded as Hess’s.  A Sears Outlet was even built in a separate building.  But this balance of power would dissolve in the late eighties with the opening of what would become the state’s largest mall, Hamilton Place.

1 & 2- The nearly empty food court.  3 & 4- Former storefronts.

By the early nineties, Eastgate was in a death spiral.  It was then that the name was changed to Eastgate Town Center and the conversion to a mixed use center was begun.  The former anchor spaces were converted to office space for companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and Convergys.  A new space was even added for clothing retailer Goody’s.  These changes were lauded nationally as an example of giving these once beloved destinations a new purpose.  However, though better than it once was, the results have been objectively mixed.

Eastgate Town Center Mallmanac plan ca. 2021.  View the full PDF version here.

I only made two trips to Eastgate Town Center after its conversion, in 2003 and 2005.  The main concourse was definitely brighter than my initial visit, but otherwise it just looked like any other dead mall.  There were few other patrons and even fewer retail outlets open.  I have to admit that I was disappointed that all of the hype I had read about boiled down to a few spaces filled by offices with the rest completely neglected.

Inside Eastgate Town Center.

Blue Cross Blue Shield departed for new digs downtown in 2009 but Eastgate Town Center still seems to be holding on.  There are a few retail destinations, all with exterior entrances such as Office Depot, Citi Trends and Starbucks, but not much more to make it any better than a daytime destination.  But in the very least, what began life as Eastgate Center in 1962 still does exist.

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