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                FORUM 303 MALL: ARLINGTON, TX

Alan Attebery's Commentary

User submitted October 29, 2009

In 2004, the old Forum 303 Mall (which was named Festival Marketplace at the time) shut down after the A/C unit blew it's final breath of cold air. The owner of the mall just couldn't bring himself to make the needed investment in a new A/C for such an empty mall. The theater, a business occupying the old Service Merchandise, and a club occupying the old ice rink stayed open since they had their own A/C units. But in the end, it just wasn't meant to be.

To some people, it's surprising that Forum 303 Mall lasted as long as it did considering everything it had going against it. The mall was only 2.7 miles south of Six Flags Mall (both malls were built in 1970). Instead of tile or carpet, the mall was built with concrete flooring for the interior walkways. The ice rink attached to the mall had roof leakage problems from day one. Forum 303's anchor stores (Dillard's, Montgomery Wards, Wilson's [later Service Merchandise]} were not considered to be as fashionable as Six Flags Mall's anchor stores (JCPenney, Sears, Sanger-Harris [later Foley's]} at the time.

The parking and mall interior entrances were also problematic. 75% of all parking spaces were located to the east of Dillard's and to the north, west, and south of Montgomery Wards. There was no interior mall entrance for these lots, so the only way into the mall was to walk through the department stores. Wilson's (Service Merchandise) had a small lot in front of their store, but it was difficult to get into and out of, so it tended to only be used by people visiting the store.

The rest of the parking for this mall was very unevenly divided among the five interior entrances. Of the two south-facing entrances, one had no parking lot serving it at all. The other entrance was located below ground and was served by an approximately 200-space parking lot that was shared with Montgomery Wards. Many mall patrons knew nothing of this parking area and entrance since the lot was very well hidden from view and because the only items downstairs were the amphitheater, a walk-up fast-food restaurant, a barbershop, a shoe-repair, and the mall office. Of the three north-facing entrances, two entrances were shared by the same 40-space parking lot that also served the ice rink (later an indoor soccer venue). This left the final north-facing entrance as the main entrance into the mall. This entrance had a large parking lot that also served as the main parking for Dillard's (despite the other large lot the store had). This parking area would often become congested, especially when the theater was showing a popular movie.

Even the roads surrounding Forum 303 Mall worked against it. When the mall was built, Highway 360 was nothing more than a service road. When the first half of the highway was built, the Pioneer Parkway bridge near the mall had to be completely rebuilt, making it difficult to get to two of the mall's four street entrances. When the second half of the highway was built, the Arkansas Lane bridge near the mall had to be rebuilt, making it difficult to get to the mall's only back street entrance. Although the mall should have been rejoicing that 360 had been completed, a glaring omission was causing them great concern: no on/off ramps from 360 to Pioneer Parkway had been built. This meant mall patrons using the highway had to either exit Arkansas Lane and enter the mall using the back street entrance, or they had to exit Park Row and take the service road up to Pioneer Parkway. When this on/off ramp omission was finally fixed a number of years later, the resulting interchange left the mall almost completely hidden from highway drivers.

But Forum 303 Mall wasn't without its charm to those of us who grew up around it. The downstairs amphitheater was very popular in its day, hosting events and performances nearly every weekend. There was a circular ramp that connected the downstairs to the upstairs that was very popular with kids who loved to run up and down it. (The ramp was replaced by an elevator when the mall became Festival Marketplace.) The AMC Forum 6 Theaters was not only attached to the interior of the mall (unlike Six Flags Mall's General Cinema, which required a trip across the parking lot), but the ticket booth was the coolest ticket booth ever constructed. The mall had the area's first Chik-Fil-A location, giving many of us our first taste of a breaded-chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Next to them was a pizza place that, despite going through several owners and name changes, was an excellent place to grab a pizza (usually buffet style) and watch whatever game was showing on their large TVs. There was also a Piccadilly Cafeteria in the mall that outlasted most all other locations in the state.

But no discussion of Forum 303 Mall would be complete without talking about the huge arcade that was a mainstay of the mall and a destination of kids, teens, and adults alike. Not only where there over 100 video and pinball games in the arcade at all times, but there was a large Merry-Go-Round in the middle of the arcade. There were also other small kid rides located near the large birthday party area in the back. No mall visit was complete without dropping at least a game tokens in the games (more than one eardrum was pierced by a tantrum-throwing kid whose parent didn't stop in the arcade at some point). Sadly, the arcade became a shadow of its one-time glory when it had to move to the other end of the mall to make way for the Festival Marketplace conversion.

By the time The Parks at Arlington mall was built in 1988, The Forum 303 Mall was already in a state of decline. Not only had the interior of the mall not been updated since it opened, the parking lot outside was becoming a joke. Potholes, dips, and raised asphalt dotted the parking lot, as did weeds that were growing out of every available curb area. The parking lines were severely faded, and most every outparcel building on the lot was in disrepair. The only change made to the mall during this time was the opening of a previously never-before-seen wing near Service Merchandise.

Forum 303's spirit didn't go down without a fight, however. Although Service Merchandise left for greener pastures near The Parks at Arlington, both Dillard's and Montgomery Ward's, along with AMC Theaters, stuck around. These stores, along with the national retail chains still inside the mall, benefited from customers who preferred the easier access this mall ironically now provided over the newer, busier mall. Although much fewer, these customers tended to spend more money, making it profitable for the stores to stick around. As time went on, however, the customers became fewer and farther between, and more and more national chains moved out. By the time the mall was remodeled and converted in 1998, only a handful of national chains remained.

Expectations were high for Festival Marketplace when it was announced since it was based on a concept that had worked well in Florida. The mall remained opened during the remodeling. All of the stores on the south side of the main interior walkway were completely gutted and replaced with several rows of fenced cubicle-style openings. By the time construction was complete, the remaining old-style stores were nearly 100% occupied and the new cubicle-style stores were almost 50% occupied.

Problems, however, were evident with the work done from day one. The concrete flooring had not been replaced but instead had been expanded into the newly remodeled area. The A/C ductwork that had been covered by ceilings in the old stores were now visible and ugly to look at. The new elevator rarely worked right, if at all. The amphitheater was never again utilized properly. The parking lot, which was already a disaster, was left more damaged thanks to the trucks that had driven on it during the remodeling.

After the initial fanfare of the Festival Marketplace opening subsided, reality set in. Though some of the new businesses succeeded for a while, many of them couldn't last more than a few months. Occupancy on the new festival portion of the mall never rose above 50%, and generally hovered around 40%. The loss of Montgomery Wards to bankruptcy caused a mass exodus of small businesses on that end of the mall, eventually resulting in a large block of the cubicle-style stores to be completely blocked off. Management tried every trick they could think of to get customers from Dillard's Clearance Center to visit the rest of the mall, but they just weren't interested. By the time Dillard's moved their Clearance Center to Six Flags Mall in 2005, the festival section of the mall was less than 20% occupied and the store-fronts were only 70% occupied.

Forum 303 Mall let out its last gasp when demolition began in October 2007 to make way for the Pioneer 360 Business Center. The center, which was completed in April 2009, contains three buildings totaling 1.16 million square feet, 254 docking bays, and over 100 trailer storage spots. In the six months since the business center opened, it has landed a whopping............ one tenant: Kaplan College, occupying a small corner in one of the buildings.

Son H. Mai's Commentary

User submitted December 17, 2005

The Forum 303 Mall in Arlington, Texas was built in 1970 and did fairly well. It was anchored by a Dillard's, Wards, and Wilson's (later Service Merchandise). The Parks at Arlington Mall was built on the other side of town around 1988. Afterwards, Forum 303 fell into decline.

In 1998, the Forum mall was converted into Festival Marketplace, an indoor flea-market/bazaar type of venue. That flopped as well, as Traders' Village, a nationally (and possibly internationally) reknowned flea market was only a couple miles away. What kept the mall limping for a few more years was actually the Dillard's--which converted to a "clearance center" around the same time. The Dillard's Clearance Center relocated to nearby Six Flags Mall and things went downhill for Festival from there. (Six Flags Mall is another dying mall--but there's still hope for that place, as the new Dallas Cowboys stadium will be built nor far from there)

Last summer, Forum 303/Festival Marketplace Mall abruptly shut its doors. Apparently the air conditioning system broke and the owners felt that the mall isn't worth putting more money into. So instead of fixing the AC, they just told tenants to pack up and get out!

I frequented the Forum Mall while growing up in the area and have memories of its heyday. I don't have any photos of the mall, but there are a couple 'blogs about it that may give you an idea of the place:
http://paulmills.net/?p=225
http://www.deniseinglis.com/archives/000493.html
http://www.dallashistory.org/cgi-bin/webbbs_config.pl?read=30369










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