Chapter one: "It makes you feel abandoned. It makes you feel like no one cares."
It was once the shopping Mecca of Macon. The stretch along Eisenhower Parkway between I-75 and I-475. Many stores called the location home like Media Play, K-Mart, and Target.
Now, those businesses and many more are gone leaving hundreds of thousands of square feet in retail space empty. Sabrina Burse spoke to people asking why businesses are "Abandoning Eisenhower" and leaving blight behind.
Over the last 20 years, some businesses have shut down and moved out of the Eisenhower Parkway neighborhood. Some people living there says the problem seems to be getting worse.
When Derrick Goodman pulls into the parking lot in Macon's Eisenhower Crossing he remembers shopping sprees with family and friends.
"I remember when this used to be Marshalls and this used to be Dick's Sporting Goods," said Goodman.
Storefronts that once advertised sales now sit for sale themselves.
Marshalls moved north to Riverside Drive and Dick's Sporting Goods moved to Bass Road. Other businesses moved out of town entirely.
"Circuit City, HHGregg, Dick's Sporting Goods, Target," said Goodman.
The list goes on. The Macon Mall spanned 1.4 million square feet at it's peak in the 90s. That all changed in the early 2000s.
The economy went down and other shopping centers sprung up like the Shoppes at River Crossing in 2008. Dillards moved there along with Belk and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Other retailers shuttered entirely like JCPenney.
Then the community took another blow when the mall's owners demolished the east wing in 2011.
"It makes me feel bad because it hasn't changed for the better. It changed really for the worse," said Goodman.
That's mostly because the loss of business allowed blight to prosper.
"It makes you feel abandoned. It make you feel like no one cares," said Goodman.
Mercer University Economics Associate Professor Antonio Saravia says it comes down to cash.
"Businesses seem to be moving, chasing the customers right? So that's what happens. Where the money goes, where the families decide to live, that's where the shops are going to go," said Saravia.
In the four census tracts around the Macon Mall, the U.S. Census says the average family income is about $29,000.
That number more than triples up north around Bass Road at $99,000.
"You have more families that want to live in North Macon, you know safety concerns versus downtown or the Eisenhower area and you have the families with more purchasing power there," said Saravia.
Saravia says while some businesses are abandoning the area around Eisenhower, he says it doesn't mean the community should abandon hope.
"There are going to be other entrepreneurs who are going to take advantage of some big businesses leaving and leaving infrastructure in place in there," said Saravia.
At the Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority Economic Development Manager Tyler Garrison says current owners of the vacant buildings can apply for the Macon Bright Program.
It's designed to help owners save on rising property taxes if they make renovations to help attract new buyers.
"While they are marketing trying to get new people to come in as a tenant, they are going to be able to keep their taxes at that same rate for a certain period of time or until that building is completely full," said Garrison.
Goodman wants those incentives to help, but says so far he's seen little progress and a lot of frustration in the community.
"Not everybody has a car here and not everybody knows how to ride the bus and not everybody knows how to use Uber," said Goodman.
They have to do without or find a way.
"It makes it extra hard for people here," said Goodman.
The Macon Bright program was approved by Macon-Bibb County commissioners in May 2019.
Garrison says only one business has taken advantage of the incentive so far and it's not along the Eisenhower corridor. That business is near the airport.
Chapter two: Macon Mall History
- 1975, The Beginning: Macon Mall opens. It’s 1.08 million square feet costing about $30 million.
- 1997, Expansion: A $50 million east wing is built and anchored by department stores Dillard’s and Parisian. The 423,000-square-foot expansion makes Macon Mall 1.4 million square feet. It’s touted as the largest mall in Georgia.
- 2001, Competition: Eisenhower Crossing, a big box shopping center, opens a few miles away from Macon Mall. The center includes 32 stores offering shoppers more retail options.
- 2005, New Owners: New Jersey-based The Lighthouse Group buys Macon Mall and uses it and a North Carolina mall as collateral for a $141 million loan. Foreclosure proceedings start in 2008 against Lighthouse for nonpayment.
- 2007, Major Anchor Closes: Parisian department stores are bought by Belk Inc. in 2006. The company closes all of its Parisian stores leaving Macon Mall with an empty 104,000-square-foot space.
- 2008, The Shoppes at River Crossing; More Competition. The 750,000-square-foot “lifestyle” center opens in north Macon. It features 44 stores and restaurants.
- 2008, Dillard’s closes its Macon Mall store and opens a new one in the Shoppes at River Crossing.
- 2010, Hull Storey Gibson Companies purchase Macon Mall. As part of its transformation of the mall, the new owners demolish the entire east wing, which was added in 1997.
- 2012: Smokin’ Pig barbecue restaurant and retailers Dry Falls Outfitters and B. Turner’s opens. Smokin’ Pig was changed to Ole Times Country Buffet in Feb. 2017.
- 2015: Burlington Coat Factory relocates to Macon Mall. The store moves from the long abandoned Westgate Mall about two miles down the road from the Macon Mall.
- 2017: J.C. Penney announces that it's closing 138 stores around the country, including its Macon Mall store.
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