Joe Blurton's Commentary:

Posted April 5, 2005 (user submitted)

The Jackson Mall opened in 1969 on Woodrow Wilson Drive in near north Jackson, making it convenient to the entire metropolitan area. With over 900,000 square feet of retail space, it was, at its opening, the largest enclosed mall within a 400 mile radius, which includes the much larger cities of Memphis and New Orleans. Jackson Mall was anchored by two department stores, Gayfers and JC Penney. A long, single level corridor of shops connected the two anchors. There was also a cinema, and a "center stage" area that hosted various community and mall events. Typical of malls from that era, the mall corridor was fairly dark and overwhelmed with various shades of the color brown, mixed of course, with the obligatory fountains and potted plants.

Jackson Mall took off running from the day it opened, and remained the star of the central Mississippi retail universe for many years, as it regularly attracted shoppers from not only metro Jackson, but also from dozens of outlying rural counties. It was always busy and fully rented. This, however, suddenly changed in 1978.

After enjoying nine years as the premiere shopping destination in Mississippi, Jackson Mall was challenged for its title with the opening of the much larger Metrocenter Mall (with about 1.25 million square feet) in March 1978 on the city's southwest side. Overnight, Metrocenter replaced Jackson Mall as the place to shop and hang out. The now-dated Jackson Mall simply couldn't compete with the top-of-the-line Metrocenter, with its 4 anchors, two levels, over 120 shops, and modern architecture.

Jackson Mall began to evolve into a dying mall as it entered the 1980's. National chain stores closed and vacancy rates rose. Many small local "mom and pop" establishments, such as nail studios and wig shops, came and went. The cinema complex closed and briefly became a live performance theatre, before eventually being shuttered permanently. In 1985, another blow to Jackson Mall came with the opening of the huge Northpark Mall in suburban Ridgeland. Soon after Northpark's opening, both anchors, Gayfers and JC Penney, closed their Jackson Mall locations.

By the time the 1990's arrived, Jackson Mall was an empty shell. There was much discussion about what to do with the hulking complex, including turning it into a prison, but nothing came to fruition.

In 1995, however, a local doctor decided Jackson Mall could be reborn as a medical center to serve the needs of Mississippi's urban poor, and the Jackson Medical Mall was born. In the ten years since, several government health agencies, private clinics, specialists and charities have taken up residence in the mall. Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center have located certain programs and administrative offices there. With all this new traffic, about a dozen retail outlets have opened in the mall, as well as a few restaurants and a supermarket. I have read that this creative and successful dead mall conversion in Jackson is widely promoted and known in the planning/redevelopment community, but I am not aware if it has been tried in other cities.


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