Old Montgomery Mall to educate as ‘One Center’
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
When Blue Ridge Capital acquired the old Montgomery Mall, the real estate investment company tried for years to sell or lease the massive facility.
Steve Patrick, vice president of leasing and management for the Atlanta-based company, said that he had 120-plus meetings with developers, potential buyers and potential joint-venture partners. He even took some to City Hall. “They saw the vision, but the timing wasn’t right for one reason or another,” said Patrick, whose firm specializes in turnaround projects.
The firm had acquired the mall after it financed multiple properties for the previous owner. When that firm was unable to repay the loan, “we decided the simplest thing to do was take back one of the properties,” Patrick said. “As we looked at the multiple properties we felt like the Montgomery Mall had the greatest potential in the long run. We took back the mall and the JCPenney building.”
The timing could not have been worse. It was in late 2008 during the Great Recession. “It was a wonderful time to be in the real estate business,” he said sarcastically. “There was no chance of anything happening.”
There was even talk of tearing down some of the mall or “tear down the whole thing,” Patrick recalled. “We want to save every inch of it. We think it can be back in service in total – in phases; it won’t happen overnight.”
The city helped restore life to the mall when it redeveloped 180,000 square feet and placed a fire station and police station in the former Steve & Barry’s building. “For us, it certainly showed people that this project can come back to life,” Patrick said.
More recently, Montgomery Public Schools announced it was building two new schools at the mall: Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School (at the former Parisian’s building) and Montgomery Preparatory Academy for Career Technologies at the former JCPenney building. Those facilities are planned for fall 2016.
Now, Blue Ridge Capital can tell prospective tenants that there will be two schools. “We would love to have construction going on in the mall while the schools (are being built),” Patrick said.
Blue Ridge Capital is talking to a call center that could bring 400 to 500 jobs and occupy about 60,000 square feet or nearly one-quarter of the firm’s 256,000 square feet. Those talks are in the preliminary stages, according to Patrick. He said that company “likes what we’re doing.” And Blue Ridge Capital has unveiled a different model as well as a new name and logo for the mall that was vacant for years and frustrated Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange’s attempt to occupy the space.
The new name is One Center and the new concept is truly unique. “We hope it will be an education-based, industry-based, workforce development model for the whole State of Alabama,” Beverly Callaway, project director for Blue Ridge Capital, said at a news conference.
She said plans call for a food court and an education learning center; there could be office space and medical offices. “We certainly would love to have a performing arts center in this mall,” Callaway said. “We hope to have a day care center; an elementary school. There are a lot of different uses that will be going on in this mall. We have plenty of space. We are breathing new life into this mall starting today.”
She talked about partnering with H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College, which is located across the street. Blue Ridge Capital is looking at bringing Trenholm’s culinary arts program to One Center. Callaway said that One Center could play a role in the dual enrollment program where a student attends high school and Trenholm at the same time. She said there may be an energy center, where utility firms “come together to have a center where they do job training.”
Callaway would like to see One Center being a science, technology, engineering, arts and math facility partnering business and industry and education. “It will be an education learning center,” Callaway said. “We hope to make it a pre-K through PhD learning center, partnering with colleges in the area.”
Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton N. Dean Sr. said, “It’s incumbent upon the county to continue to work with the city, the City Council, the mayor and the Commission and state to enhance this area. This is going to be the icon.”
Strange said “it’s all about partnerships. It’s about the partnerships with the state. It’s about the partnerships with the county. It’s about the partnerships with the City Council. It’s about the partnerships with the (Montgomery Area) Chamber of Commerce and certainly the local business community.”
Callaway noted that the mall opened in 1968. “We certainly hope to bring this mall back to the grandeur that it was when it first opened. There is not another model like this, where we can partner business and industry and education.”