For those out there who are true dead mall fans, this one’s for you. Get ready for a tale of competition, empty promises and sad outcomes, but not before a complete pre-demolition tour of an empty ghost mall nine months after it closed for good.
Located in northern Tarrant County, Texas, about 10 miles northeast of downtown Fort Worth and 25 miles west of downtown Dallas, North Richland Hills is a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, home to over 6 million people with a geographic spread larger than the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. North Richland Hills has a population of about 60,000, but is surrounded on all sides by other suburbs and the city of Fort Worth.
North Richland Hills has an enviable location in the DFW Metroplex, in between Dallas and Fort Worth and relatively close to DFW Airport. The city is served by Loop 820, the freeway which circles around Fort Worth, and also by TX 183, one of the three east-west freeway linkages between Fort Worth and Dallas (the others being I-20 and I-30, respectively). In addition, North Richland Hills is also home to a popular water park, and until fairly recently was home to two large, adjacent enclosed malls. The city was also ranked in 2006 as one of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live in America” according to Money Magazine.
Because of its location and prosperous demographic base, retailers sought to establish presence in the area early on. North East Mall opened in 1970 or 1971 (which?) in the small city of Hurst, right next to North Richland Hills. North East Mall was anchored by Montgomery Ward, JCPenney, Sears, and Leonard’s (later Dillard’s). As the area grew, a complementary mall called North Hills Mall was built directly across Loop 820 from North East Mall, in North Richland Hills. North Hills Mall opened in 1979, anchored by Stripling and Cox, Foley’s and Mervyn’s. As it was newer than North East Mall, it stole the thunder for a period of time; however, due to the anchor balance between the two malls the relationship proved a complementary balance for many years.
This all changed in 1997, when North East Mall struck a deal that would forever change the co-existing relationship between the two malls. It was announced then that a subdivision of over 100 homes would be demolished south of the existing mall for a large expansion, which doubled the size of the mall and added destination anchor Nordstrom in one fell swoop. The entire mall was also updated and renovated and when the whole thing was complete, North East Mall also received several high-end fashion stores, putting it miles ahead of its former competition across the freeway.
As renovation proceeded on North East Mall, the owner of North Hills Mall scrambled to get in gear and embark upon a renovation of its own. In November 1999, North Hills Mall was sold to a new group of investors with ideas as big as Texas itself. Plans were unveiled to promote North Hills Mall as the ‘entertainment’ complement to North East Mall’s fashion dominance. In theory, the two malls would continue to co-exist peacefully again as they had for years prior.
In a June 2002 edition of the Dallas Business Journal, developer Burk Collins announced a $93 million loan for renovation and expansion of North Hills Mall, over two years after first announcing the same project. Among his plans included a Cinemark Tinseltown theater, a Jillian’s entertainment complex and an Olympic-sized ice rink. Another of his most far-fetched yet awesome ideas was a people-mover system throughout the planned 1.2 million square-foot mall, a man-made three acre lake, and a fountain which would project 200 feet into the air. The rest of the new space would be filled with themed restaurants including a Dave & Buster’s and a new Burlington Coat Factory anchor. “It’s a lot of fun…” Collins said. “I hope we can work something out.”
Unfortunately, nothing remotely close to the above plans panned out for North Hills Mall, for various reasons. First, access to the mall stemming from TXDot construction on Loop 820 in prevented traffic from getting to the mall efficiently for several years. This, combined with the lag time in development in comparison with the booming success story across the street caused the closure of Stripling and Cox in 2000 and Foley’s in Fall 2001. Foley’s also added insult to injury in building a brand new store onto adjacent North East Mall. Then in 2004, the architectural firm responsible for the proposed renovations, by this time long overdue, sued developer/owner Michael Kest because Kest apparently wouldn’t return their blueprints and instead distributed them to competitors. Whoops.
All this time, the mall became more and more troubled. While North East Mall thrived immensely, North Hills Mall went from 75% occupancy in 2000 to 20% occupancy by mid-2004. Mervyn’s was the only anchor left by Fall 2004, and legal wranglings were still ensuing between California owner Kest and local developer Burk Collins over what to do. Meanwhile, the bottom fell out and the mall was bleeding money profusely, and, On October 15, 2004, North Hills Mall’s remaining tenants were forced out and the mall locked up for good.
In July 2005, we arrived at North Hills Mall unwitting to the above story and attempted a visit. It was not immediately apparent that the mall was closed for business; however, there were signs that the mall was on its last legs. Several signs in the parking lot advertised sales of fixtures etc., but we figured a couple stores might still be open because the mall’s doors were wide open and many people were walking around the site. We ventured into the shuttered Mervyn’s store and gained access into the main walkway, and became instantly aware that the mall was being prepared for demolition and the people walking around were workers harvesting any valuable fixtures from the site. Most of them ignored us, and we were able to walk the entire length of the mall unfettered, and even use the mall’s restroom which was located in the former food court. However, upon leaving the mall we were confronted by a man on a bicycle (?!) who wanted to know what we were doing, and also admonished us for being there. He followed us out on the bike the same way we came and also back into the parking lot, before riding back into the mall. The whole ordeal was a bit strange, but it allowed for all the pictures you see here and in the end the mall’s memory can be preserved.
Rather shockingly, when researching for this article we discovered the mall was not immediately torn down following our visit. Instead, due to legal wranglings over the site, the mall sat and rotted until early 2007 when a court order from the city finally forced them to tear it down completely. Other uses for the shuttered center included developing an Asian-themed mall or turning part of the abandoned structure into medical facilities, but the mall fell into such disrepair that none of this became possible without a complete demolition.
So what will become of the site? That’s a question we can’t really answer right now. After all the legal wranglings and funding issues, the site was supposed to become a 900,000 square-foot “Lifestyle Center” called Citywalk at Calloway Creek (link to PDF), with at least two-thirds of the space devoted to retail and entertainment in order to complement the mega-monster mall next door which still thrives today. Isn’t that what they tried to do with the old mall? Hmm. Furthermore, this Citywalk business was announced in 2005 and has yet to come to fruition (as of February 2008) despite numerous online articles announcing it would already be open by now. We won’t hold our breath.
It seems rather sad to me that the poor citizens of this area have watched their once-thriving mall literally crumble to pieces while a perfectly viable option was proposed and seemingly funded for several years. I hope someday something beneficial and unique returns to the vacant site, and is much more than the typical vapid sea of box stores floating amid a shiny gray abyss of parking stalls.
Directory snagged from defunct mall website. Thanks, wayback machine!
Outside, including former Foley’s:
Inside, including dark abandoned Mervyn’s and stripped mall corridor: