PARK PLAZA CENTER
West Markham Street and North Hayes Street (North University Avenue)
Little Rock, Arkansas

The Natural State's first shopping mall was designed by Richard Savage and constructed on 22.2 acres, situated 2.9 miles northwest of the Arkansas State House. Consisting of 2 retail levels, PARK PLAZA was open-air in format. It was officially dedicated in late 1960.

Charter stores and services included Joe's Hobby Shop, Bozo's Toys, Somers Shoes, Gold's House of Fashions, Park Plaza Photo, the Park Plaza Bowling Lanes, an S & H Green Stamps Redemption Center and Sterling's 5 & 10. A 2-level (125,600 square foot), Little Rock-based Gus Blass department store was added in 1965. The mall now housed approximately 354,600 leasable square feet.

The Blass chain had been acquired by a group of investors headed by Dillard's in February 1964. In the previous September, Dillard's had bought stores in the Little Rock-based Pfiefer Brothers operation. In 1967, the Blass and Pfiefer chains were merged into a single entity, branded as Pfiefer-Blass. In 1974, Pfiefer-Blass locations received Dillard's nameplates. The PARK PLAZA anchor was expanded (into a 198,000 square foot store) soon after.

A fully-enclosed complex, originally known as THE MALL, opened across the street from PARK PLAZA in 1967. This center was renamed UNIVERSITY MALL in 1975. SOUTHWEST CITY MALL {5.1 miles south, in Little Rock} was a 180,000 square foot community-class interior mall that was completed in 1969. A third regional-class shopping venue, McCAIN MALL {6.9 miles northeast, in North Little Rock}, was dedicated in 1973.

By the mid-1980s, the open-air PARK PLAZA had been outclassed by its fully-enclosed neighbor across West Markham Street and was in foreclosure. The Houston-based Herring Marathon Group, new owner of the 27-year-old retail hub, announced a major renovation in January 1987.

The mall structure of PARK PLAZA was razed in July 1987, leaving only Dillard's standing. Construction of a 3-level, galleria-style shopping venue was underway by September. In addition to the existing Dillard's, the 562,400 square foot facility  would be anchored by a second, 2-level (86,300 square foot) Dillard's location (a Men's & Home Store).

The 7-bay Market Food Court would be situated on a First Level, along with an underground parking deck, with two levels of retail stores above. Tenants in the new PARK PLAZA would include Forbidden City, Shreveport-based Beall-Ladymon apparel and Chick-Fil-A.

The rebuilding project cost 55 million dollars. Forty stores (out of an eventual sixty-two) were dedicated with a gala grand opening held July 27, 1988. The festivities included a fashion show, presented by Dillard's, and music from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

Little Rock's sibling centers at West Markham Street and University Avenue coexisted for several years. However, the glitzy PARK PLAZA soon gained a foothold, leaving UNIVERSITY MALL in decline. The aging shopping center was demolished in December 2007. It was replaced by PARK AVENUE, an open-air power center. Its first phase, a 1-level (137,000 square foot) Target, opened for business October 10, 2010.

PARK PLAZA and UNIVERSITY MALL had been joined by a third sibling shopping center, MIDTOWNE LITTLE ROCK, in October 2006. It was built directly east of the PARK PLAZA property, on the northeast corner of the West Markham / University Avenue intersection.

Elsewhere in the metro area, new retail centers were springing up. PLEASANT RIDGE TOWN CENTER {4.2 miles northwest, in Little Rock} was dedicated in November 2006. A site 4.6 miles southwest, in Little Rock, had been plotted for the SUMMIT MALL project in 1987. The land was eventually developed as the SHACKLEFORD CROSSING lifestyle center, which opened in October 2007.

A prospective lifestyle-format complex on the southwest side of Little Rock (the site of the abandoned, circa-1986, OTTER CREEK MALL project) remains unrealized. Plans for a GATEWAY TOWNE CENTRE fell through in 2007. The third lifestyle venue in the region, PROMENADE AT CHENAL {6.5 miles west, in Little Rock}, was dedicated in 2011.

PARK PLAZA is now owned by Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates Properties, who acquired the shopping venue in June 2004. Its retail roster of over seventy stores includes XXI Forever, Lane Bryant, Abercrombie, Hollister Company, Cache, Talbots and Brentano's Books.

Sources:

www.parkplazamall.com
Pulaski County, Arkansas tax assessor website
www.parkavenuelr.com
www.arkansasbusiness.com
www.schickels.com
"Park Plaza Mall" article on Wikipedia
"Dillard's" article on Wikipedia