HAMILTON PLACE MALL
• Opening: 1987
• Size: 1 million square feet
• Last remodeled: 1998
• Stores: 160 specialty stores anchored by J.C. Penney, Sears, Dillards, Belk
• Restaurants: 30 inside and outside
• Visitors: 16 million to mall and surrounding complex annually
Hamilton Place mall showed off its multimillion-dollar upgrade Thursday, and Charles Lebovitz and Ben Landress recalled when the company they helped found built the Chattanooga shopping center.
"We had the pleasure of assembling the 200 acres," said Lebovitz, CBL & Associates Properties Inc.'s chairman. "It was nothing like it is today."
About 4,500 people now work at the mall and nearby stores off Interstate 75 and Shallowford Road, officials said.
Marking the renovation's completion, Lebovitz and Landress were cited by Mayor Ron Littlefield for their decades-long effort leading CBL and developing the center that opened in 1987.
Lebovitz said the so-called "super regional mall" remains one of the top two or three in CBL's portfolio of 160 properties the company owns or manages in 27 states.
"Hamilton Place continues to grow sales," he said. The mall and surrounding stores generate about $40 million in sales tax revenue annually, according to officials.
Landress, CBL's executive vice president of management, said Hamilton Place turned out better than officials expected.
"I don't think people envisioned all the development around it," he said.
Littlefield remembered he was at the opening of the mall 24 years ago as the city's newly elected public works commissioner. The roads in the area were little better than tar and gravel prior to development of the center, he said.
"It was a different community," he said.
The mayor presented Landress with a road sign with his name on it and Lebovitz a key to the city.
The 11-month mall revamp, only the second in its history, was done mostly at night so stores could stay open.
Alan Lebovitz, CBL's senior vice president of asset management and a son of the co-founder, said every interior surface of the mall was redone. Carpet and floor tile were upgraded, surfaces were repainted or received wall treatment and wood trim, and entrances, signs and restrooms were refurbished, officials said.
Also, energy efficiency enhancements are estimated to save enough to power 100 homes annually.
"It's fresh," Alan Lebovitz said. "It looks new."
Shoppers said they like the investment in the mall, which CBL said should be essentially 100 percent occupied for the Christmas season.
Derrick Strong, of Rossville, said the stores and renovation help keep him coming back.
"I don't go down to Dalton," he said about a mall in that North Georgia city.
Karen Selcer, of Hixson, said it's important to keep a shopping center and stores upgraded.
"If it doesn't look like it's kept up, people are less likely to want to go into any store," she said.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger noted CBL recently bought Northgate Mall in Hixson. The company paid $11.5 million in cash for the Highway 153 center in an online auction from General Growth Properties.
"They're a great corporate citizen," he said about CBL. "They've created a lot of jobs."
Linda Kenaston, who was "Miss Chamber of Commerce" at the 1987 opening of the mall, said she didn't think the center would spur so much development.
"This was the start of all the growth," she said.