There’s a reason they’re called vulture investors.
Not unlike the winged consumers of carrion, these particular real estate buyers spot rotting carcasses, their last bit of life long-since departed, and they swoop and swarm, ripping off bits and bobs that satiate their needs.
So it is with Hickory Hollow Mall, that hulking husk of concrete and steel, a once-vibrant driver of the economy, now sucking wind, desperately grasping onto relevance.
The main body of the mall sold last week for $1 million to Global Mall Partnership, an entity named with the preposterousness that only high ambition can inspire. How global is Global Mall Partnership? Its mighty empire sets astride the world, all the way from Hickory Hollow to … Murfreesboro?
Indeed, it’s only global in name and to people whose idea of international trade means they do shopping in Smyrna and La Vergne.
It’s a partnership headed by a Rutherford County doctor and her MTSU professor husband, who were able to scrape the necessary funds together to buy what is available at the mall: essentially the central core, once home to small retail storefronts — Claire’s and The Limited and the like. GMP also managed to gobble up Electronic Express for their trouble.
The plan is invigorate the mall, drawing not just businesses, but office users like small technology and research companies.
It’s not a bad play, frankly. The state spent $3 million earlier this year to buy the former Dillard’s anchor at the mall with plans to turn it into a satellite campus for Nashville State. Students inject instant consumers into what is little more than hundreds of thousands of square feet of nothingness for now.
And the IT students produced by Nashville State will soon be looking for work — and if Global Mall can draw the type of office users that it seeks, those students won’t have to look very far for potential employers.
Metro, meanwhile, wants a new community center and library in the former J.C. Penney at Hickory Hollow — providing a service to the Antioch area and filling another abandoned building.
It’s not unlike the plan that resurrected 100 Oaks. When Vanderbilt Medical Center opened its extension there, it brought a new vitality to the once-forgotten shopping center.
With the right investment and the right users, there’s no reason creative reuse won’t work at Hickory Hollow.
This, indeed, might be the future of shopping centers, many of which have seen struggles with the rise of online shopping and so-called lifestyle centers in the suburbs — those walkable, mostly outdoor big-box behemoths that dot the ring counties.
Bellevue Mall is forever the target of mental exercises that recast it as a library or a high school or an ice rink even as it sits mostly empty — Sears stubbornly hangs on. It’s more like the setting for the epilogue to Dawn of the Dead than the Dawn of a New Economy.
If Global Mall can resuscitate Hickory Hollow — whose rapid decline and fall would make the Soviets blush — the vultures will start circling Bellevue, too, ready to descend and pick apart that anachronism and hope that resurrection can happen a third time.