University Mall is a regional 733,254 sq ft (68,121.5 m2) shopping mall on U. S. Highway 82 (McFarland Boulevard East) in Tuscaloosa. Located at the interchange of McFarland Boulevard East and 15th Street, it is in the central section of the city, approximately 1 mile to the southeast of the University of Alabama campus. Celebrating its grand opening on August 20, 1980, University Mall supplanted McFarland Mall as Tuscaloosa's largest retail destination.
The property where the mall now stands was previously home to the World War II-era Northington Naval Hospital. On June 16, 1977, Aaron Aronov Realty of Montgomery announced that it secured a lease on the 72 acres of the former hospital to develop a regional shopping center. At the time of its announcement, the mall was estimated to cost between $17 and $22 million to complete, have 75 stores and contain approximately 600,000 square feet of leaseable space. As part of the terms of the lease, Aronov was to pay the Alabama Department of Mental Health 20 percent of its net profits gained in operating the mall over the period of its 61-year lease. After relocation of a fire station and mental health center on-site, demolition of the former hospital complex commenced on April 7, 1978, by the T.M. Burgin Company of Birmingham.
Following demolition, site preparation commenced by S.T. Bunn of Cottondale began in February 1979. By May, the first three anchor tenants were announced as J.C. Penney, Pizitz and Sears, and their leases stated they would be open by October 1, 1980. Construction of the physical mall structure would begin in July 1980 by the Georgia based West Point Construction Company. By October 1979, Aronov stated the mall would draw customers from across west Alabama and eastern Mississippi and employ and estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people. The mall would celebrate its grand opening on August 20, 1980, with four anchor tenants (J.C. Penney, Sears, Pizitz and Parisian) and 86 other tenants. The original tenants at opening were:
After eighteen years of operations, in 1998 Aronov completed a multi-million dollar renovation of the mall. Major components of the project involved the creation of a fountain, stage and seating area in the center court, the replacement of over 5,200 ceiling and 45,000 floor tiles and placement of fountains in front of all of the anchor tenant entrances.
Anchors & Major Stores
- J.C. Penney - From opening through the present.
- Sears - From opening through the present.
- Pizitz - From opening through January 1987.
- McRae's-Pizitz - January 1987 through September 1987.
- McRae's - September 1987 through July 2005.
- Parisian - From opening through October 2006.
- Belk - October 2006 through present (separate Belk Women and Belk Men, Home & Kids stores)
- Albertsons - Grocery on adjoining outparcel opened on August 16, 1980 and closed in January 1985 when acquired by Bruno's.
- Bruno's - Grocery on adjoining outparcel opened in January 1985 through the present.
- Fisher, Brad (June 20, 1977) "New mall to create jobs and problems." The Tuscaloosa News
- Bassett, Norman H. (April 8, 1978) "Clearing begins for mall." The Tuscaloosa News
- Staff reporters (February 11, 1979) "University Mall work under way at site here." The Tuscaloosa News
- Bassett, Norman H. (May 13, 1979) "Three stores lease space at new mall." The Tuscaloosa News
- Bassett, Norman H. (July 15, 1979) "Major building work in progress." The Tuscaloosa News
- Heine, Max (October 19, 1979) "Mall firm believes in areas economy." The Tuscaloosa News
- Heine, Max (August 19, 1980) "University Mall likely to reduce 'out-shopping'." The Tuscaloosa News
- Watkins, Ed (June 29, 1998) "Mall renovation nearly complete." The Tuscaloosa News