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.

An open-air strip complex had been built as the defacto downtown of the Oak Ridge town site. Developed by Knoxville's Guilford Glazer, the DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER occupied 65 acres, located 17.8 miles northwest of downtown Knoxville, and opened for business in October 1955.

The DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER encompassed approximately 260,000 leasable square feet. It was 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.

The original tenant list included 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 facility.

The Loveman's of Tennessee store was rebranded by Knoxville-based Miller's of Tennessee on February 1, 1967. In 1974, a 1-level (50,000 square foot) Proffitt's was completed, as the Tenessee-based chain's third branch. Other mid-1970s DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER stores were Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, Otasco Hardware, Dollar General Stores and the United American Bank.

The second anchor store nameplate change took place in 1987, after Allentown, Pennsylvania's Hess's had completed a hostile takeover of Miller's of Tennessee. 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 mall.

Sears, which had relocated into a new (51,300 square foot) store, was to anchor the new shopping complex, along with the existing Hess's, Proffitt's and Penney's. A 1-level (117,300 square foot) Wal-Mart, built as a southeastern "shadow anchor", had welcomed its first shoppers on August 16, 1988.

A pre-grand opening celebration was held August 1, 1991. The new OAK RIDGE MALL encompassed 740,000 leasable square feet and contained one hundred and twenty-five tenant spaces. As part of the 40 million dollar renovation, Penney's had expanded its store to 64,100 square feet.

Proffitt's was enlarged to 59,200 square feet, with Hess's now encompassing 40,000. New tenants included Kay Bee Toys, Champs Sports, Lady Foot Locker, Lerner's New York, Dollar Tree, Afterthoughts and Lane Bryant.

Unfortunately, things were not going as smoothly as planned. The new, fully-enclosed shopping center would never be fully leased. Several existing DOWNTOWN SHOPPING CENTER stores, such as Otasco and Downtown Hardware, had relocated 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 travel time between the two cities. WEST TOWN MALL (1972) {13.4 miles southeast, in Knoxville} was now a short drive from Oak Ridge.

Nevertheless, 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 being held September 5, 1992.

Proffitt's acquired eight Tennessee Hess's stores, including the Oak Ridge location, in October of the same year. OAK RIDGE MALL would now be anchored by a plural Proffitt's operation. The old Hess's was enlarged to 61,200 square feet. It re-opened, as a Proffitt's Women's & Children's store, in July 1993. The original Proffitt's was reconfigured to sell Men's & Clearance merchandise.

Wal-Mart expanded their existing store. It re-opened, as a (210,400 square foot) SuperCenter, in 1996. Goody's also relocated to the opposite end of the complex. They opened their new (22,000 square foot) store on November 6, 1997. A state-of-the-art cinema was -then- built on the site of the original Goody's. The first features at the Cinemark Tinseltown 14 were shown on December 11, 1998.

In spite of these improvements, the mall still had too many vacant spaces. It wasn't long before the complex, less than 10 years old, was seen as 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 was assembled. 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 procurement of an 800,000 dollar federal grant, to assist with the demalling, was announced. However, no visible progress on the redevelopment could be seen. A few peripheral structures had been demolished in October 2005, but this was not enough to secure the federal money. The prospective grant was suspended in March 2007.

Proffitt's Men's and Clearance location had been shuttered in 2001. The remaining (consolidated) store was rebranded as a Charlotte-based Belk on March 8, 2006. The demise of the Goody's Family Clothing chain, in January 2009, left the moribund mall with yet another vacancy.  To add insult to injury, Sears' OAK RIDGE CITY CENTER store shut its doors for good 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 sold, with 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, the Tinseltown 14 and original Sears store 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 of the following year.

The first order of the day was to change the name of the shopping-center-to-be to MAIN STREET OAK RIDGE. The complex would encompass approximately 225,000 square feet of new retail and include 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 told.

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

However, by December 2016, the mall had been demolished as planned. Construction was -at long last- underway on MAIN STREET OAK RIDGE. Its first phase would be comprised of eight stores. The first to open, a (6,500 square foot) Rue 21, began business June 15, 2017.  A (35,000 square foot) Dick's Sporting Goods was dedicated June 27, followed by an (18,000 square foot) PetSmart, on July 10. A (23,000 square foot) T.J. Maxx welcomed its first shoppers on August 6.

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