Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Overcomers Share Mall Plan

Last February, Scott Kim had to shutter his women's clothing store after the Hickory Ridge Mall was damaged in a tornado.

Today, he was back at the mall — in his store's old space — to hear what the mall's new owners, the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church, are planning.

"People keep saying to us, you're a church, what are you going to do with a mall?" says Al Cousins of the World Overcomers. "We want to talk to those retailers who are returning, those who are on the fence, and those who weren't here in the first place and tell them, here's our plan."

In addition to 40 retail and food court stores, the mall will include social services, church ventures — such as a day care and a book store — and family entertainment. Part of Macy's is slated to become a banquet and conference center. There are also plans for a youth recreational center and a movie theater.

"We don't believe the community has been abandoned by the residents. We believe the community has been abandoned by the national retailers," Cousins says. "Are we going to have a Macy's and Dillard's? We don't need them for a community mall."

The church hopes that by creating a mix of retail, social services, and educational facilities it can revitalize both the mall and the surrounding community. It has been in negotiations with entities as disparate as Incredible Pizza and Southwest Tennessee Community College to lease space in the mall.

"A mall with 100 retail spaces won't survive. It doesn't work like that anymore because of the economy," Cousins says.

Vickie Reyes is the director of Southwest's Educational Opportunity Center, which tries to get more adults a post-secondary education. Since January 2003, the center has been at the corner of Mendenhall and Winchester, but its lease is about to expire.

Reyes came to the meeting to see what other services the church was planning to include in the mall.

"We've always said, wouldn't it be great to have a one-stop shop? We'll be able to touch more people here," she says.

The church is currently generating letters of intent from interested retailers and will begin writing leases in 45 days. Store owners will have 60 days to get their spaces ready before the mall's grand re-opening in the summer.

"It's a unique concept that I think is right for Hickory Hill," says mall manager Pat Jacobs. "People ask me who's going to be here. I don't know, but I can almost guarantee you Circuit City won't be."

The grand opening is slated for the end of June.

Kim, who owns six other 4 Ever Young stores in the area, plans to return once the mall opens.

"I still have my store here," he says, pointing to the fixtures. "I have a lot of stuff still here."

As for Cousins, he says the church will make money on the venture, but that's not its primary goal: "We're coming back to make the mall work for you."

Bonus: For those of you who had heard the rumor the church was going to build an old folks home in one of the anchor spaces, I did ask about it, and Cousins just said they were talking about having a day care for Alzheimer's patients.

But he also said he couldn't tell me what the church had planned for the Dillard's space.

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