DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER
Oak Ridge Turnpike and Rutgers Avenue
Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Tennessee's Secret City was built, as part of the US Government's Manhattan Project, in 1942 and 1943. Originally referred to as simply the Clinton Engineering Works, the community was incorporated as the City of Oak Ridge in 1959. A 260,000 square foot retail complex had opened, in October 1955, at the center of the Oak Ridge town site. Occupying 65 acres, 17.8 miles northwest of downtown Knoxville, this commercial hub was known as the DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER.

Knoxville's Guilford Glazer had developed the open-air, single-level structure. He went on to create Los Angeles County's DEL AMO FASHION CENTER (1981) which, for 11 years, was the nation's largest fully-enclosed shopping complex.

The DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER in Oak Ridge was originally anchored by a 1-level (34,200 square foot), Chattanooga-based Loveman's of Tennessee and 1-level (41,600 square foot) J.C. Penney.

Included on the original tenant list were Downtown Hardware, Fowler's, Walgreen Drug, Gateway Books, Singer Sewing Center, Federal Bakery, the Laughing Monkey Hobby Shop, Sears Catalog & Appliance and J.G. McCrory and F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10s.

There were also an A & P supermarket and Ark Bowling Lanes in the periphery of the retail hub. The Loveman's DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER store was rebranded by the Knoxville-based Miller's of Tennessee chain on February 1, 1967.

In 1974, a 1-level (50,000 square foot) Proffitt's opened as an addition to the existing center. It was the Alcoa, Tennessee-based chain's third  branch. Other businesses in operation at the DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER at the time included Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, Otasco Hardware, Dollar General Stores and the United American Bank.

The second anchor store nameplate alteration at the complex took place in 1987, after Allentown, Pennsylvania's Hess's had completed a hostile takeover of the Miller's of Tennessee chain. Johnstown, Pennsylvania's Crown American Corporation, who also owned Hess's, acquired the DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER in early 1989. By the end of the year, work was underway to renovate and expand the structure into a fully-enclosed shopping mall.

Sears, which had relocated into a new, 1-level (51,300 square foot) store, was to anchor the mall, along with Hess's, Proffitt's and Penney's. A 1-level (117,300 square foot) Wal-Mart built as a southeastern outparcel, served its first customers August 16, 1988.

A pre-grand opening soiree was held August 1, 1991. The new OAK RIDGE MALL encompassed 740,000 leasable square feet and housed one hundred and twenty-five store spaces. As part of the 40 million dollar renovation, Penney's had expanded its store to 64,100 square feet. Proffitt's now encompassed 59,200 square feet and Hess's, 40,000. New tenants included Kay Bee Toys, Champs Sports, Lady Foot Locker, Lerner's New York, Dollar Tree, Afterthoughts and Lane Bryant.

Unfortunately, the mall, much ballyhooed at the time, would never to be fully leased. Several stores in the original DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER, such as Otasco and Downtown Hardware, had moved to peripheral locations, rather than pay the hefty "enclosing fee" required to become part of the mall.

Moreover, the completion of Pellissippi Parkway, connecting Oak Ridge with the western environs of Knoxville, substantially shortened the travel time between the two points. WEST TOWN MALL (1972) {13.4 miles southeast, in Knoxville} was now a short drive from Oak Ridge.

In spite of this, new OAK RIDGE MALL tenants were signed and older tenants revamped their stores. Goody's Family Clothing opened October 9, 1991. Sears expanded to 76,300 square feet, with a grand re-opening held September 5, 1992. Proffitt's acquired eight Tennessee Hess's stores, including the Oak Ridge location, in October 1992. They had additional retail space built, emerging as a 61,200 square foot location in July 1993.

With the Hess's acquisition, OAK RIDGE MALL became anchored by a plural Proffitt's configuration. The old Loveman's / Miller's / Hess's became a Proffitt's Women's & Children's store; the original Proffitt's was reconfigured to sell Men's & Clearance merchandise. Wal-Mart also enlarged their location, into a (210,400 square foot) SuperCenter-format store, in 1996.

A new Cinemark Tinseltown 14 multiplex opened December 11, 1998. It had been built to the northwest of the mall proper, on space originally occupied by Goody's. As part of this addition, Goody's relocated to the opposite end of the complex, opening their new (22,000 square foot) location November 6, 1997.

Still, the mall had too many vacant spaces. It wasn't long before the complex, less than 10 years old, was considered obsolete. A plan to redevelop the redevelopment surfaced in late 2001. Spearheaded by Chattanooga's Steve Arnsdorff, it proposed to open the interior mall, build streets through the site and create a lifestyle-type town center.

A referendum was held in August 2002 to approve a bond issue to help finance the 40 million dollar demalling. The measure failed. Meanwhile, an altered redevelopment plan evolved. The mall was sold to an entity known as Oak Ridge City Center, Limited Liability Company in June 2003, with the name of the shopping venue officially changing to OAK RIDGE CITY CENTER in July. The bequest of an 800,000 dollar federal grant, to assist with the demalling, was announced.

However, no visible progress on the deconstruction could be seen. A few peripheral structures were demolished in October 2005 but this was not enough to attain the federal money. The prospective grant was suspended in March 2007.

The acquisition of the Proffitt's chain, by Charlotte-based Belk, resulted in the rebranding of the Women's & Children's store, as a Belk, March 8, 2006. The Men's & Clearance store had been shuttered in 2001. Goody's Family Clothing's liquidation, in January 2009, left the moribund mall with yet another vacancy. A proliferation of vacant store spaces was joined by another idle anchor store when Sears shut its doors in 2012.

News of a pending sale of OAK RIDGE CITY CENTER was announced in August 2012. However, the deal fell through in September. In October 2013, the mall was finally sold; the buyer being Charlotte, North Carolina's Crosland Southeast.

They announced plans for an 85 million dollar redevelopment of the property. Belk, Penney's, WalMart and the Tinseltown cinema would remain standing, while the remainder of the mall was to be knocked down. In September 2014, it was announced that demolition would be underway by June 2015.

At this time, it was also divulged that the official name of the shopping-center-to-be had been changed to MAIN STREET OAK RIDGE. The complex would encompass 225,000 square feet of new retail, one hundred and fifty residential units, a class A office building and hotel. The first new stores could be open for business by late 2016...or so it was said.

A new developer, Greenville's RealtyLink, signed on to the project in September 2015. It was still hoped that demolition of the mall could be underway by summer 2015. This failed to transpire, which made a 2016 MAIN STREET OAK RIDGE grand opening seem unlikely.

However, by December 2016, the mall had been demolished, leaving only WalMart, Belk, The Tinseltown 14 and J.C. Penney standing. Construction was underway on eight new stores. These included Dick's Sporting Goods, T.J. Maxx, Maurice's and PetSmart. The first of these opened for business in the summer of 2017.

Sources:

"Oak Ridge, Tennessee" article on Wikipedia
Oak Ridge, Tennessee tax assessor website
Memories of B. Stilz, former Oak Ridge resident
Comment post by Brian
www.oakridgecitycenter.com
The Oak Ridger archive
http://www.croslandsoutheast.com
www.realtylinkdev.com
http://wyshradio.com
www.oakridgetoday.com