East Towne Mall: Born again

Nick Della Volpe
Features columnist

Many of us grew up reading about the Phoenix, an ancient bird that was said to have flown to the temple at Heliopolis toward the end of its days where, after creating a fire that consumed it, it rose up from its own ashes, ready to fly again, even stronger.

There is now hope that East Towne Mall will also rise again under new ownership. This renewed creature (sans fire, of course) will likely appear and function differently from the 1984-era mall.

Knoxville Center Mall, better known to the geographically savvy as East Towne, has been sold to Knoxville Partners LLC. Its prior owner, Simon Properties, through its many corporate arms and partners (including, most recently, W.P. Glimcher from Columbus, Ohio), has been a poor steward of this former gem over the past decade. For years Simon plied its Knoxville retail trade out of its West Town Mall location; its managers stationed there cared little for its eastern stepchild along I-640. Like the aging Phoenix, it grew thin and weak over time. It was in need of renewal.

Who are these new guys?

They remain a bit of a mystery one week after the sale. Here is what I know. Working from rumors and the Secretary of State’s corporate filing records, as well as a short visit to their 300 block office, there are four members of the LLC. Two of them, Knoxvillian Brant Enderly (think Standard Knitting Mills rehab project) and an unnamed Minnesota partner, work through a Gay Street design, construction and property management company known as Henry and Wallace.

Two other members are capital investors or limited partners in the wings. Not surprising. As every baker knows, you need dough to make bread.

However the entity is structured, this acquiring group intends to study the current market, meet and talk to locals about their needs and desires, and build out a more successful model, which may include mixed housing and commercial buildings added to the 50-acre site. That will take time. They believe slow and steady wins the race.

While the new H&W team is weighing its options, they will restore functionality and order to the poorly-run mall. You can expect potholes to be fixed, lighting to be improved, escalators to work, overgrown brush to be removed, and general operations to get in ship shape. From brief conversations with H&W leasing manager Patrick King and operations head Dana Fenick, the site will become more people friendly to better serve customers. Other steps will take time … and money.

With consumer input and the company’s market analysis, expect commercial redevelopment and residential growth over time.

The H&W design team will employ its in-house construction team to build new structures at East Towne. Before such future flight, however, H&W must grow new feathers to support such an operation. Meantime, expect to see better merchandise in the aisles and more shoppers on the lot.

Don’t be a wallflower. Visit the existing stores and talk to their managers. Let them know what you want on the shelf. You, the customer, will make a difference. You may also contact H&W by email at info@knoxvillepartners.com. And come to our northeast economic summit on Sept. 29.

The Phoenix shall rise up from its ashes. Viva East Towne Mall!

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