Strategy, luck led to development
As it was with most elements of development in the early history of The Woodlands, the opening of The Woodlands Mall was part business acumen, part persistence and part luck. That the mall got built was not so much good fortune as it was an inevitability.
"The Woodlands Mall was always part of the general plan for The Woodlands," said Roger Galatas, former president of The Woodlands Development Company and an early pioneer in the community's creation. "Our focus was having a destination mall for people, not only in The Woodlands, but the north Houston area. The mall was going to be the centerpiece for retail development to attract people to The Woodlands."
In 1982, the Development Company placed a sign along the I-45 South feeder road just south of Lake Woodlands Drive announcing The Woodlands Mall was "Coming Soon." There it sat for more than a decade as the Development Company waited for The Woodlands to grow. But the sign was also there for strategic purposes.
"That sign was, in part, a defense measure," Galatas wrote in his book, "The Woodlands: The Inside Story of Creating a Better Hometown."
The DeBartolo company was a developer interested in building a mall in the north Houston area at South Loop 336 and Hwy. 105, Galatas said, but was more interested in a site farther north in Conroe at the intersection of South Loop 336 and Hwy. 105.
"We felt we could promote the belief that the mall would be located in The Woodlands, and it could diminish the competition," Galatas said.
With the DeBartolo group out of the picture, the Development Company and Woodlands founder George Mitchell turned their attention to Homart, a mall developer and wholly owned subsidiary of Sears. Mitchell, Galatas, Mike Richmond and Ben Love flew to Chicago to meet with the chairman of the Sears Corp. board of directors on the top floor of the Sears tower to convince him to open a store in The Woodlands.
"That meeting was a watershed event," Galatas said.
For the mall to be realized, it needed four anchor tenants. Dillard and Foley's were two early commitments, along with Sears. Mervyn's was accepted by Homart as the fourth tenant, and the mall was off and running.
The Woodlands Mall opened in 1994 to a crowd that had been promised its existence for more than a decade. On the morning the mall opened, Mitchell, Galatas and Richmond rode in a limousine to the grand opening celebration.
"When we got there at 9 a.m., the mall parking lot was absolutely full," Galatas said. "The mall ring road had people sitting around the curb waiting to get in."
As Mitchell made his way through the crowd, the thousands on hand were there to greet him and shake his hand.
"It was more than a grand opening," Galatas said. "It was an emotional thank you."