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How dead malls are getting new life in the medical world

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Posted at 10:19 AM, May 06, 2022

Global Mall at the Crossings in Antioch, Tennessee, used to be a spot where people would hang out with friends.

“There were cars here every day," said Joy Styles, who serves on Nashville's Metro Council. "Macy’s was open. We had JCPenney's, Dillard's, and Sears. Those were the anchor stores.”

This mall first opened in 1978 as the Hickory Hollow Mall. It started to lose tenants around 2008, and officially closed in 2019.

The mostly-empty retail space has become an eyesore in Styles' district.

“People have been complaining in the community for years about how this has been sitting empty," Styles said.

Currently, a library, a community college, a community center and an ice rink occupy the site.

“It was just an eerie feeling, in that aspect, to go from when it used to be a vibrant mall to empty," said Thomas Floyd, who runs the Southeast Community Center.

"It's a dead mall," Styles adds. "That's what it is.”

However, the mall is about to get new life.

The City of Nashville is buying the mall and plans to lease 600,000 square feet to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). It turned a nearby mall into a healthcare facility in 2009.

“They don’t have to build a new facility, they don’t have a poor foundation, they don’t have to dig, it’s right here,” Styles said.

Few people know more about what will come of empty malls than Georgia Tech Architecture Professor Ellen Dunham-Jones. Her website, Retrofitting Suburbia, has an interactive map that tracks what is happening to sites that were once malls.

“Medical facilities you want privacy, you don't want a lot of windows so depending on which part of the mall you’re taking over, malls are pretty convenient," Dunham-Jones said.

A third of 1,500 former mall sites across the country are being re-purposed beyond retail, according to Dunham-Jones. They are being transformed into office spaces, apartments, and in the case of 35 of them, places for people to receive medical care.

Since the pandemic started, she's tracked a dozen more that have announced plans to use empty space for healthcare.

VUMC says the zip code where the Global Mall is located has one of the lowest rates for adults who have had a routine health checkup in Davidson County, the county that is home to Nashville.

“I realize for most people they don’t know what health equity is or they have never heard of it, but they definitely know it when they see it," said Kinika Young, who works for the Tennessee Justice Center.

The group works to make sure everyone has fair access to healthcare.

She says meeting the needs of the Antioch community goes deeper than just a mall filled with medical options.

Young contends improving transportation is also key.

VUMC says, at this point, they don’t have specifics on what they’ll put in the Global Mall space, and it's years away from seeing patients.

Styles says a performing arts center and school are also part of the plan.

“This is going to be, yet again, a focal point for the community, yet again, but in a whole new way," Styles said.