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

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

The single-level complex was built on land leased to Simon. It 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 operated freestanding Auto Centers on the periphery of the mall.

The first stores in THE MALL had opened in November 1967. By the spring of 1968, the full complement of fifty-five retailers was in place. Charter tenants included Osco Drug, Franke's Cafeteria and Forsythe's ladies' wear.

The first expansion of THE MALL was completed in 1972, when a second level was added to M.M. Cohn. This enlarged the store to 70,000 square feet. A third Greater Little Rock mall entered the picture soon after. McCAIN MALL {6.9 miles northeast, in North Little Rock} opened for business in 1973. It was also developed by Melvin Simon & Associates.

A face lift renovation of THE MALL got underway in late 1974. The shopping hub, now known as UNIVERSITY MALL, was rededicated in March 1975.

In April 1987, PARK PLAZA was shuttered. It was partially demolished and renovated into a fully-enclosed galleria, which was dedicated in July 1988. Meanwhile, a 15 million dollar renovation and expansion of UNIVERSITY MALL had been announced in October 1987.

During this project, a partial upper floor 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 to a 159,400 square feet.

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 adjacent shopping complexes coexisted for a time, but PARK PLAZA eventually gained a competitive edge. The UNIVERSITY MALL Montgomery Ward was shuttered in March 2001. Within a few years, most of the mall's national chains had moved out, leaving mom & pop-type stores, government offices and several vacant retail spaces.

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 facility.

However, Simon was embroiled in a lawsuit filed by mall tenants who were dissatisfied with the company's upkeep of the shopping center. The Property Group decided to unload their outpositioned retail complex. It, and the land beneath it, were 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 stores in UNIVERSITY MALL closed October 27, 2007. Demolition commenced in December and was completed in March 2008. The only structure left from the mall was its parking garage.

Between 2009 and 2015, the Strode Company built an open-air, mixed-use complex. Known as PARK AVENUE, it was anchored by a 1-level (137,000 square foot) Target, which opened for business October 10, 2010. Target was joined by stores and services such as Radio Shack, Mattress Firm, Cheddar's Casual Cafe, Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, Panera Bread, LA Fitness and a (17,800 square foot) Staples.

Two hundred and fifty-eight "luxury residential" units were also constructed. Park Avenue Lofts was completed in 2015 and sold to Birmingham, Alabama's Equity Resources in June of the same year.

Sources:

Pulaski County, Arkansas Tax Assesssor website
www.simon.com
www.parkavenuelr.com
"University Mall" article on Wikipedia