As the Collin Creek Mall property sits on the verge of a billion-dollar makeover, memories loom large for Plano residents past and present.

The reason a now-empty building might have such a strong hold on so many people makes sense to Jeff Scoggin, who moved to Plano at age 6 in 1967, he said.

“Once [Collin Creek Mall]  opened in 1981, it became a central part of the community, which is something Plano really hadn’t had up until that time,” Scoggin said. “The mall was the first big development like that.”

Collin County sat at a population of roughly 145,000, according to the 1980 U.S. Census Bureau. Scoggin said if there was ever a question about where to meet up with friends, Collin Creek Mall was always the answer.

Collin Creek Mall regained its title as the place to be on the night of its send-off party in July.

Young and old alike flocked to the nearly 40-year-old shopping center to say goodbye. Thousands filled the spaces that had steadily emptied over the course of the last few years as stores suffered and closed.

“It was such an integral part of the coming-of-age of two generations in Plano—two generations and possibly three,” Scoggin said. “It became much more than just a shopping mall.”

For Jeremy Herrera, a 25-year-old who grew up in Plano, it was hard to watch the place where he spent a significant share of his formative years grow emptier and emptier.

“Now that they’re tearing down half of it, I just feel like, ‘There goes my childhood,’” Herrera said.

Crews were expected to begin tearing down parts of the building near the end of August or beginning of September, developer Mehrdad Moayedi said. The demolition is part of an extensive project to redevelop the mall property into a $1 billion mixed-use destination.

‘This is where I grew up’

Attendees of the redevelopment kickoff event gravitated toward the stage set in the center of the mall. An ’80s cover band played “Jessie’s Girl” and “Summer of ’69.” Dancing to the beat wearing neon tights, a jean skirt and arms full of bangles was Hava Johnston.

Johnston is the creator of the Facebook page “Collin Creek Mall: an era gone by.” She also has a lifelong relationship with the mall. For weeks before the farewell event, residents past and present reminisced with stories and photos on the page.

“[Collin Creek Mall]  means everything to me. It’s home; it’s family; it’s my children; it’s my marriage; it’s my high school; it’s my community; it’s my town,” Johnston said. “This is where I grew up. It’s where I had my first job; it’s where I had my first kiss; it’s where I was proposed to.”

Johnston credits the mall’s Facebook page with connecting generations of people who grew up visiting the mall. She and her dancing partner, Erin Ruiz, had wondered out loud in late April why there was no online space to share memories about Collin Creek Mall. The next day, Johnston created the page. It now sits at roughly 8,000 members.

“That means something. I don’t know what, but it means something,” Johnston said.

Former Plano Mayor Phil Dyer recalls Collin Creek Mall as a recurring topic during his time on the Plano Chamber in the mid-’80s and ’90s, where he was chairman of the board of directors in 1993. The mall served as an economic driver for the city, he said.

“It was a source of revenue; it was a source of employment; it was a source of community energy,” Dyer said. “It was a very important place to Plano back in those days.”

The loss of Dillard’s and Macy’s as anchor stores at the mall in the last six years is in part due to them having newer storefronts within a smaller area, according to Weitzman, a real estate company that studies commercial trends in North Texas. Older malls also have difficulty competing with new shopping trends, leading to the trend of mixed-use redevelopments using former mall sites, Weitzman spokesperson Ian Pierce said.

A new vision

Johnston said she is excited about plans to bring boutique retail stores and restaurants to the property.

“It’s not going to be another Big Lots and another Bed Bath and Beyond,” Johnston said. “This is going to be a place where you go to find something unique, as Collin Creek Mall is unique.”

For some, such as Cheryl Nieuwesterg, speciality stores and outdoor shops have less appeal.

“I hope that the new venture is good and that it will bring some of us older people back, because so many things now they build, they’re not for the older generation,” said Nieuwesterg, a Plano resident since 1995.

The mall was one of the best places to take her children to visit Santa Claus, she said. She remembers staking out from the food court to watch her daughter work her first job at the hairdresser’s shop on the mall’s lower level.

Nikki Fuentez, who moved to the area in the ’90s, worked and shopped at the mall as a teen.

“It was sort of sad to watch it decline, but in my head, I was like, ‘Maybe something will happen where it will survive or revive,’” she said.

For years, city officials had discussed how to revamp the ailing property, Dyer said.

“I became mayor 10 years ago. We knew that long ago that this was a superb location,” said Dyer, who became mayor in 2009 and served until 2013.

Most of Collin Creek Mall is now closed to the public, with the exception of the still-active J.C. Penney department store. The first and largest phase of construction is set to begin soon as crews begin to demolish the first anchor stores.

Sisters Heather and Ginger Rogers regularly visited the mall as teens in the ’80s and shopped there occasionally after that. They have been keeping up with Moayedi’s plans to rebuild the property. They like that parts of the original mall will be kept.

“Trying to hold on to pieces of it is pretty cool because it’s like your childhood when you’re growing up,” Heather Rogers said.

Plano editor Daniel Houston contributed to this report.