This past Thursday night, a group of folks gathered in an abandoned store front off the center court at Hickory Hollow Mall to hear about the latest plans for mall revitalization, focused on the proposal by city government to locate a regional community center, a public library branch, and a community health clinic in the space currently occupied by FEMA and formerly owned by J.C. Penney. The meeting was called by Councilman Sam Coleman as is his normal modus operandi, allowing folks a chance to hear what’s up and to vent about concerns. While I no longer live and work in the Antioch area (having moved to Old Hickory this past July), I spent a bunch of years working to create opportunities for growth in the area and continue to have an interest in the well being of Southeast Nashville, so when my daughter decided to visit a friend in the area and I had some time on my hands, I decided to drop by. Here are a few random thoughts on the meeting:
- The most contentious part of the Mayor’s proposal, the creation of an “Expo Center” for the relocation of the Flea Market and other events was completely omitted from the conversation. This is because this is the shakiest of the proposals due to the fact that CBL Properties, the “owners” and managers of the mall, DO NOT own the Dillard’s building that is at the center of the proposal. To date, there are no firm plans for Metro to purchase that building (which is for sale) and as such negotiations for the relocation of the flea market have a long ways to go. While I have some reservations about that part of the plan (the subject of a coming post) it was not discussed in any way.
- In another display of hysteria, a local pastor again made hyperbolic comments about the inadequacy of the plan and continued his pursuit of owning the mall outright. The response of the gathered assembly? Whatever….
- All in all folks were positive about the creation of the community center and the library. Everyone recognizes that Antioch has far too few parks and services for the population, which represents 1/4 of Nashville’s. One thing not mentioned publically, but shared privately later on is that this will not replace the current Antioch Community Center on Blue Hole Rd. (currently closed because of flood damage) but will supplement what already exists. All agree that the current branch library off Bell Rd. is too small and needs expansion. One detail that folks aren’t focusing on but is interesting is the movement of the Metro Archives from the old Green Hills branch library to the Hickory Hollow site, which may in fact make the resources in the archive more accessible.
- There is more concern and resistance to the Health Center, and unfortunately the Health Department failed to send personnel to interpret what this center would look like, and who this center would serve. The concern of some residents (not myself) is that this brings poverty to the mall which then discourages the creation of new businesses in other parts of the center. I personally think that there is a great lack of understanding at this point about the nature of the center and the breadth of the clientele it will serve.
- All in all the proposal is a positive thing. Everyone agrees that in order to survive, Hickory Hollow will have to be transformed from solely retail to a mixed use center like 100 Oaks. There are good signs for the community in that the local McDonalds and Burger King just invested in major remodel/reconstruction efforts. There is a move to tear down the old empty buildings by the theatre and TGI Fridays and while it hasn’t been “officially” announced, it looks like a Zaxby’s will be going in that space. The mall has an aggressive new manager who is well liked and is creative in thinking about how to transform the place. This proposal is a first step in transforming an area in decline, but there is more energy for that transformation than ever before.