The CoolSprings Galleria turns 25 Thursday, Aug 4th. Twenty-five years ago, Cool Springs was not much more than rural, undeveloped fields and hills.
When first proposed, many people wondered who would want to build a huge shopping center in the middle of nowhere. After World War II, Williamson County was still mostly rural. In Brentwood, monied movers from Nashville started to settle, and Franklin was surrounded by miles of farms and woods. Pool halls and taverns dotted the dusty Franklin downtown, which had not changed much in character since after Prohibition.
By the late 1970s, with a growing major city a few miles north, Williamson County began experiencing a transformation- a boom that really has not stopped since.
The Brentwood and Franklin Annexation Battle
In the early 1980s, those fields and farms sat in unincorporated land between Franklin and Brentwood. The process that would create not just the CoolSprings Galleria but Cool Springs itself, started with a simple land grab.
Led by mayor Tom Nelms, Brentwood annexed land south of Moores Lane in the early ’80s. Franklin’s mayor was six-time incumbent Jeff Bethurum. He had just greenlighted a major bypass called Mack Hatcher Parkway. He called Brentwood’s action a “violation of their promise,” and set off an annexation escalation that shaped both the cities and their futures.
In response, Betherum moved to annex 2,200 acres in the no-man’s land between the cities, which Nelms pleaded with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen not to approve. By 1987, Franklin would add 7,000 acres, nearly doubling the size of the city’s limits. Critics, like Helms, claimed Betherum had a developer in his back-pocket.
One annexed property belonged to a farmer named Marvin Pratt, who owned a 220-acre farm in the Mallory Valley area, just west of Interstate 65. In 1985, Pratt settled on the notion to sell his land, which he bought for $40,000 in 1954 with a $5,000 down payment, to a developer.
He was approached by Southeast Ventures, led by George Volkert, who had helped build two Nashville malls: Hickory Hollow and Rivergate.
“The idea of a Williamson County mall was tantalizing,” wrote Robert Holladay in Franklin: Tennessee’s Handsomest Town. “All the local sales tax would remain in the county; property-tax coffers would be full. Williamson County shoppers would not have to go to Nashville to spend their money.”
The Mall Brawl
Quickly, in what would become known as the mall brawl, several developers appeared to compete with Southeast for the rights to build a Williamson County mall, among them some of the premier firms in the nation. One was CBL & Associates of Chattanooga.
Each proposed a different location. CBL approached Brentwood about the corner of Concord Road and Franklin Pike.
“They were turned down cold by residents and officials who wanted nothing to do with commercial development in the area,” wrote Holladay.
Another proposed a project called Liberty Place at Moores Lane and I-65. Edward j. DeBartolo Corp came up with plans for a Maryland Farms shopping mall in the 50-acre Brentwood Business Park. (Liberty Place would eventually be developed, but on a much smaller scale.)
CBL moved quickest. After Brentwood turned their plan down, they sketched out an ambitious plan for a 1.08 million-square foot galleria on the southwest corner of Moores Land near I-65, inside the new Franklin city limits. The city approved.
At that time, Cool Springs Boulevard was being constructed. The just-constructed (and to this day only half-finished) Mack Hatcher Parkway would need to connect to the mall via a direct route.
Southeast Venture’s hold on the project, moving through bankruptcies and insolvency, fell to the momentum, resources and timing of CBL. CBL teamed up with DeBartolo, also turned down by Brentwood, to buy the 100-acre Southwestern Publishing Company building and 65-acres of the Pratt land south of Moores Lane.
By 1987, Castner Knott had committed to be an anchor; less than a year after that Dillard’s, too.
After pulling things together for nearly four years, the two developers gained Franklin Planning Commission approval for a final site plan of the CoolSprings Galleria Commercial Complex on September 9, 1989.
Environmentalists, concerned about Spencer Creek being re-routed as part of the plan, filed a complaint, and then a lawsuit to stop the mall, but to no avail.
Construction began in May, 1990, with plans to be complete by August 1991.
“It would be an economic windfall for Williamson County,” Holladay wrote. “But Brentwood, at least at the beginning, was not pleased, for the simple reason that many of the customers coming to shop would come from the north, using Brentwood streets. Brentwood would get much heavier traffic, but very little revenue to pay for it.”
On Wednesday, August 7 1991, Franklin’s third mayor since the first rumblings of a Williamson County mall, Jerry Sharber, opened the mall officially by cutting the ribbon. Three of the planned five anchor stores opened their doors that day too: the aforementioned two and Sears. Penny’s and Parisian would be announced within two years.
The mall meant money- the city of Franklin in a ballot initiative vote to raise local sales tax- but it also meant that Cool Springs would never be the same. The Galleria created an economic climate that could support the total development of the surrounding Cool Springs land.
The 1840s farmhouse that was Cool Springs namesake ended up in a Brentwood park. And the original spring, which had spawned settlement there in the first place, was re-reouted to make way for the mall’s construction.
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