THE MALL / UNIVERSITY MALL
West Markham Street and South University Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas

The second mall-type shopping hub in the capital city of Arkansas was built on a 28.3 acre tract that was situated directly across West Markham Street from the PARK PLAZA shopping center. Originally known as THE MALL, it was developed by Indianapolis' Melvin Simon & Associates (the precursor to today's Simon Property Group).

This single-level venue originally encompassed 565,000 leasable square feet and was anchored by a 2-level (136,600 square foot) Montgomery Ward, 2-level (141,000 square foot) J.C. Penney and 1-level (27,800 square foot), Little Rock-based M.M. Cohn. The Penney's and Ward's stores had freestanding Auto Centers on the periphery of the mall.

Initial inline stores in THE MALL had opened in November 1967. By the spring of 1968, the full complement of fifty-five retailers was inline. Included on the tenant list were Osco Drug, Franke's Cafeteria and Forsythe's ladies' apparel. The first alteration of THE MALL took place in 1972, when a second level was added to M.M. Cohn, expanding the store to 70,000 square feet.

A third metropolitan Little Rock mall entered the picture soon after. McCAIN MALL {6.9 miles northeast, in North Little Rock} opened for business in 1973. 2 years later, THE MALL was given a facelift renovation, with its official name being changed to UNIVERSITY MALL. The remodeled retail hub was rededicated in March 1975.

In April 1987, PARK PLAZA was shuttered. It was renovated into a glitzy, fully-enclosed galleria, which was completed in July 1988. At this time, a 15 million dollar renovation and expansion was underway at UNIVERSITY MALL.

A partial Upper Level of stores was added, including a 10-bay Food Court. The central area of the mall was covered with a tent-type Teflon roof and a multilevel parking garage was constructed on the north side of the complex. Moreover, J.C. Penney was expanded into a 159,400 square foot operation.

The shopping center now encompassed approximately 697,000 leasable square feet and seventy inline stores. The formal rechristening celebration, held in October 1988, was attended by Corbin Bernsen, of NBC TV's "L.A. Law".

The newly-renovated complexes coexisted for a time, but eventually PARK PLAZA gained a foothold, with UNIVERSITY MALL losing its more upscale tenants to its neighbor across the street.

The first harbinger of doom for UNIVERSITY MALL came when its Montgomery Ward was shuttered in early 2001. With most national chain tenants gone, and its concourses populated by local stores, government offices and more than a few vacant storefronts, the Simon Property Group decided to demall the struggling center in 2006.

A plan, announced late in the year, proposed tearing down the mall, parking garage and outparcel Ward's and Penney's Auto Centers and replacing them with a mixed-use, retail / residential / office complex.

Simon, who was embroiled in a lawsuit filed by mall tenants who were dissatisfied with the company's upkeep of the shopping center, eventually decided to unload the outpositioned retail complex. It (and the acreage beneath it) was sold to the Dallas-based Strode Property Company in October 2007.

In the same month, J.C. Penney moved to a store in the newly-built SHACKLEFORD CROSSING lifestyle center {4.6 miles southwest, in Little Rock}. The last few remaining stores in UNIVERSITY MALL closed October 27, 2007. Demolition began in December 2007 and was completed in March 2008. The only structure left from the mall was its parking garage.

The Strode Company has built an open-air, mixed-use complex on the property. Known as PARK AVENUE, it will eventually encompass approximately 711,000 square feet. The new power plaza is anchored by a 1-level (137,000 square foot) Target, which opened for business October 10, 2010. Thus far, Target has been joined by Radio Shack, Carter's children's apparel, Mattress Firm, Sport Clips Haircuts, Cheddar's Casual Cafe, Staples, Jared The Galleria of Jewelry and AT & T.

Sources:

Pulaski County, Arkansas Tax Assesssor website
www.simon.com
www.parkavenuelr.com
www.deadmalls.com / "University Mall" article / Submitted by Jerrod Long and Matthew Thompson
"University Mall" article on Wikipedia