Mall Wars: Retail vs. Residential

CoolSprings Galleria

In our continuing series celebrating Brentwood’s 50th birthday, today we’re writing about how CoolSprings Galleria came to be.

What residents love about Brentwood is the big lots and wide-open spaces created by the one house per one-acre zoning law. It has kept businesses from springing up in the middle of or between neighborhoods, which can be found all over Nashville. But, residents still want to be able to shop for the goods and service they need locally.

The quandary of how to attempt to balance the need for some retail and dining with lush residential is at the heart of the issue around building Cool Springs mall, which began in the 1980s. What has come to be called the ‘Mall Wars’ had its seeds planted with the development of Maryland Farms in the 1970s.

“The original master plan for Maryland Farms included the development of a 50-acre site west of Andrews Cadillac for a shopping center,” said Will Ogilvie, President of Maryland Farms Owners Association. “The land was zoned for retail, but the citizens…read [it] to imply that any retail had to be primarily to serve just residents of Brentwood – NOT a regional draw.”

As plans were being made with the DeBartolo Group to bring Dillard’s to a mall on the Maryland Farms location, two other developers were in negotiation for land that was available at Cool Springs, and another was looking at a piece of land that was within the southeast city limits of Brentwood.

Not too long into the various negotiations, the Cool Springs group contacted the DeBartolos about bringing Dillard’s to their development instead for a 50% ownership position in the mall.

“I know this to be a fact,” said Ogilvie, “because I personally got the call from the DeBartolo family attorney saying they had accepted the deal to go to Cool Springs.”

Considering that most Brentwood residents were against any commercial zoning within the city limits, perhaps it was a blessing, but having Dillard’s move to Cool Springs didn’t put the issue to bed. As Ogilvie said, Brentwood residents didn’t want a mall anywhere in the vicinity.

“The Brentwood citizenry even fought development at Cool Springs,” said Ogilvie, “which is completely outside the… city limits.”

While citizens were avidly against the mall, the Mayors of Franklin and Brentwood were playing economic development games over the no man’s land that sat between the two cities. The building of I-65 in the 1970s opened up the possibilities for this land, and as developers got interested in the rural farmland dividing them as the location for a mall, the land-grabbing began.

According to a 2017 story in the Williamson Source, in the early 1980s, foreseeing what might happen in the area, Brentwood mayor Tom Nelms annexed land south of Moores Lane. Franklin mayor Jeff Bethurum called Nelm’s action a “violation of their promise” about where future city boundaries would lay. Critics of both actions felt that the no-man’s land should remain with the county.

As the article goes on to say, this land grabbing ended up shaping the two cities. It also escalated tensions. In the end, Bethurum won the contest, increasing the size of Franklin by 7,000 acres, taking in the majority of the area that is now Cool Springs.

The tension over the land wasn’t the only issue. To build the mall, it meant that Moores Lane, which was now completely in Brentwood city limits, would have to be improved to accommodate the entrance to the Mall. However, Brentwood would not receive any tax income from the mall to pay for it. In the end, the developer and the state worked it out.

CoolSprings Galleria opened in August of 1991. In spite of all of the wrangling and hard feelings its building generated, it has ended up kick-starting growth in both cities.

“The sales tax and property tax revenue generated by the mall, office buildings, and new residential development has been a boon to Brentwood, Franklin, and the county as a whole,” said Ogilvy. “What was once a very large cow farm owned by one family is now practically a city into itself.”

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