North Midvale Boulevard and University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin

In 1957, two suburban-style shopping centers were in the initial stages of development in Madison; the so-called UNIVERSITY HILL FARMS CENTER and another project known as WESTGATE CENTER.

The first was an endeavor of the University of Wisconsin, who had formed a non-profit entity, known as Kelab Incorporated, that would own the land that the prospective retail hub would be built on. A second company, the University of Wisconsin Foundation, would own, lease and maintain the actual shopping center structure.

This arrangement was opposed by the privately-owned developer of WESTGATE CENTER. They filed a lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin, citing that their shopping center development scenario resulted in unfair competition to a private builder.

However, two Wisconsin courts ruled in favor of the University. The matter was settled once and for all when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Construction on the University's commercial complex, by now known as HILLDALE CENTER, had been delayed during all of the litigation.

Meanwhile, building had progressed on the WESTGATE CENTER project. It was officially dedicated in March 1960. With all legal hurdles out of the way, the University of Wisconsin started construction on their retail center in the fall of 1961.

HILLDALE CENTER was situated on 37 acres, located 3.4 miles west of the Wisconsin State House. The open-air shopping hub, designed by Milwaukee's Grasshold, Johnson & Associates, consisted of a main retail level and small basement and encompassed approximately 241,000 leasable square feet.

A grand opening was held October 25, 1962. Anchoring the complex was a 3-level (99,000 square foot), Milwaukee-based Gimbels-Schuster's.

Charter inline tenants included Clark's Clothing for Men, Chandler's Shoes, Rennebohm Drug, Morgan's Shoes, Carmen's Quality Fashions, The Emporium, Card & Camera Center, Victor Music, Julie Ann Fabrics, Wolf Kubly & Hirsig Hardware, Bates & Hardy Liquors and Hilldale Bowling lanes, There was also an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10 and (20,000 square foot) an A & P supermarket.

The single-screen Hilldale Theatre was built as a northwest outparcel of the shopping center. It showed its first feature January 19, 1966.

In anticipation of a new fully-enclosed mall in the Four Lakes Region, the owners of HILLDALE CENTER began a renovation of their property in 1968. A steel and glass enclosure was added to the east-facing storefronts, making the center into an interior mall.

At the same time, the existing anchor store was enlarged to 160,000 square feet, with a full upper level and southwest expansion. This project was finished in the spring of 1969. In July, the official name of the anchor store was truncated from Gimbels-Schuster's to simply Gimbels.

Over the next few years, the mall renovation would be continued with the addition of approximately 32,400 square feet of inline store space; this added along the east side of the new mallway. HILLDALE CENTER now encompassed approximately 347,400 leasable square feet.

By the early 1970s, competing shopping centers in Madison were the aforementioned WESTGATE CENTER (1960) {1.6 miles southwest}, WEST TOWNE MALL (1970) {2.7 miles southwest} and EAST TOWNE MALL (1971) {8 miles northeast}.
In 1975, the A & P supermarket chain pulled out of the Wisconsin market. The HILLDALE STORE was acquired by Milwaukee-based Sentry Foods, which was purchased by Madison's Metcalfe's chain in 1979. The official name of the HILLDALE store became Metcalfe's Sentry.

The next major rebranding was done after the August 1986 shuttering of Gimbels. It re-opened, as a Chicago-based Marshall Field's, in November of the same year.

The mall had been given an interior and exterior update in 1985. In 1990, Metcalfe's Sentry was renovated and expanded with a 10,500 square foot addition. The store became the chain's flagship.

A fifth remodeling of the mall was officially dedicated October 26, 1997. This 4.5 million dollar project, adding "prairie style" design elements, brought carpeted corridors, new skylights and renovated restrooms.

By the turn of the century, the University of Wisconsin had decided to exit the retail mall business. They sold HILLDALE CENTER to Palatine, Illinois' Joseph Freed & Associates in May 2004. Within months, a massive renovation and remarketing of the complex was underway.

During Phase 1 of the 115 million dollar "tired to trendy" remake, 75,000 square feet of streetscape-type shops were built. These faced the east facade of the mall. Comprised of north and south structures, the addition brought trendy tenants such as Pasqual's Southwestern, Anthropologie, L'Occitane en Provence, The North Face, Anaala Salon & Spa and FlatTop Grill.

Two multilevel parking structures; the Shorewood and Arboretum Garages, were built adjacent to the new streetscape shops. Hilldale Row, a forty-unit residential complex, was constructed along North Midvale Boulevard The upscale Streetscape, parking garages and town homes were complete by November 2005.

Phase 2 of the HILLDALE CENTER reconfiguration was to add a (65,000 square foot) Whole Foods Market, 8-story hotel and 11-story condo tower. Plans for these structures were abandoned because of The Great Recession.

Another aspect of Phase 2, the 6-screen Sundance 608 Cinema, was installed in existing space at the south end of the mall. It showed its first features May 11, 2007. This replaced the circa-1966 Hilldale Theatre, which had closed December 17, 2006.

The old cinema and adjacent office building were demolished in 2007 in anticipation of the Whole Foods Market that never materialized. The site would sit vacant until Minnesota's Target chain purchased the property and built a 2-level (150,000 square foot) store. It opened for business March 1, 2011.

In retrospect, it is now clear that Joseph Freed & Associates could not have chosen a worse time to undertake such a large and expensive mall renovation. By March 2010, the 436,000 square foot property was in foreclosure. 50 million dollars were owed to Bank of America, 13 million to a BOA subsidiary and over 6 million still due to the University of Wisconsin Foundation (the remaining, unpaid, balance of the 2004 shopping center sale). Moreover, there were thousands of dollars due in delinquent property taxes.

A Dane County, Wisconsin judge ruled in favor of Freed & Associates in March 2010, keeping lenders from seizing the property. Meanwhile, loans were defaulted on. A sheriff's sale of the property was scheduled for June 2011, but was postponed.

A lawsuit filed by the University of Wisconsin Foundation was settled in January 2012, with Freed paying the UWF 5.4 million dollars. The mall's financial woes were finally settled in May 2012, when Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts-based WS Capital Partners bought the property.

In August 2013, WS Development announced a 15 million dollar mall remodeling. The north end of the complex, excluding Metcalfe's Market, would be gutted and rebuilt as an open-air shopping promenade. The existing Center Court, Macy's and South Mall structures would remain as is.

Demolition and construction were underway by September 2014. Six North Mall stores opened for business June 2, 2015. By August, fourteen toney tenants were in operation. These included Lucky Brand Jeans, Sur La Table, Kate Spade, Mes Amies and Michael Kors.


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