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Back in Business: Normandy Mall

Religious institutions are normally known for purchasing property to build larger facilities and parking lots, sometimes at the detriment of the surrounding urban context. Here is a situation where a church has brought economic redevelopment to the Westside.

Published August 29, 2007 in Neighborhoods      16 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Located just south of the I-10/Cassat interchange, Normandy Mall was one of the firstenclosed shopping centersin Jacksonville, when it opened in 1963. Developed by Edward J. Debartalo, the416,000 square foot mall featured 60 specialty shops plusMontgomery Ward, Woolco, and a 1,000 seat twincinema as the main anchors.

Like most malls from this era, Normandy fell on hard times during the late 1980's and eventually closed its doors for good in 1994.

The Potter's House Christian Fellowship bought the abandoned mall for $4 million in 2002. The church then converted the old Sam's Wholesale Club building into a 4,000-seat sanctuary, a 600-seat children's church, nursery, classrooms and offices.

Kingdom Plaza at Normandy Mall

(images were taken 8/25/07at 8:00am)

The most interesting part of this redevelopment project was the church's decision to bring retail back to this abandoned shopping complex to serve as a catalyst for revitalization in the surrounding neighborhood. While traditional department and chain stores aren't a part of the plan, the mall is filling up with retail spaces operated by church members.

This section of the mall was once a department store. During the renovation, the interior shopping corridor was extended to the parking lot, creating new retail spaces. This section includes a fitness center anda popular restaurant called theSoul Food Bistro.

For a review on the Soul Food Bistro, click here:

Further into theinterior,a portion of the original mall remains. However, the twin cinema was demolished and a section of specialty retail shops were converted into a bowling alley andvideo game arcade.

This original corridor connects the main common area to the parking lot on the northside of the complex.

The southern half of the property has been redeveloped as the Normandy Village shopping center by Toney Sleiman. Winn-Dixie is the mainanchor for this section. The old auto service center operated by Montgomery Ward has been renovated into retail space that now is the home to a Blockbuster Video.

The newest section of Sleiman's development replaces the area the was once home to the movie theater. This section was torn down and has now been replaced by a strip of retail shops with an A.J. Wright as the main anchor. A.J. Wright is a discount clothing chain owned by the TJX Companies. TJX is also the parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

While the Normandy Mall can no longer compete with modern regional malls like the Avenues or St. Johns Town Center, it is a shining example of what can be accomplished in older sections of town by groups that really put their heartinto improving the community. Maybe downtown advocates need to start talking with First Baptist and nearby congregations to help better integrate their properties into the core?



August 30, 2007, 01:18:46 AM
I couldn't agree with you more! If we can get an idea on how to give the downtown residents a good reason not to go across the river to go to other great malls we all love and cherish, we're gonna need more than just the St. John's River and the Jacksonville Landing to get it done! :-\


August 30, 2007, 11:49:46 PM
Church Resurrects Westside Mall With Faith-Friendly Shopping

By Grayson Kamm
First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Vacant for 15 years, the Normandy Mall has reopened with a new name and a new, faith-based mission.

Welcome to "Kingdom Plaza," where the landlords are devoted to the Lord.

The mall is owned by The Potter's House Christian Fellowship, and through that partnership, it's really reinventing revitalization.

Inside the spacious shopping mall, you'll find hand-laid marble tile, bright lighting, and a wide range of retailers. All of the shops offer services and stuff compatible with the mall's Christian mission, but there are plenty of down-to-earth clothing shops and cell phone stores.

The faith-friendly shopping experience is the brainchild of Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin and his congregation at The Potter's House.

"Complete new lighting, complete new walls, complete new everything. And we've just come in and worked it. You couldn't have come in here about a year and a half ago. Walking into this building was an impossibility," McLaughlin said as the mall opened its doors for the first time Thursday.

The Potter's House Christian Fellowship, based in a church next door, bought the empty mall and resurrected it. Where the landlord is devoted to the Lord, you'll find a unique way to revitalize a neighborhood.

"It's part of our vision as a church to empower people economically, socially, spiritually, educationally," McLaughlin explained.

The three biggest shops: King Pins bowling alley, the Soul Food Bistro, and Temple Builders gym (you've got to love that name) -- are all owned by the church.

But more than a dozen other stores, from a preschool to a party shop, are rental tenants. And you don't have to be a church member to be a vendor.

"We don't ask that the tenants... be a member of The Potter's House. But, certainly, we should all serve the same God. So we do have those religious convictions," said Kingdom Plaza manager Brenda Tate. Retailers must agree to follow a code of conduct before they move in.

The church says their investment totals more than $10 million -- all funded by church offerings, and financed with faith.

In the center of the mall, there remains a symbol of the rebirth. While all of the tile work and planting was done by members of the church, the central fountain is an original element from this mall. It was put in place when the Normandy Mall was built decades ago.

You can find the mall right off Interstate 10 at the corner of Lenox Avenue and Normandy Boulevard.


August 31, 2007, 07:26:48 AM
I wonder if they pay property taxes on this mall.


August 31, 2007, 09:36:56 AM
What a  great idea. I have worked with Bishop Vaughn in the past. He is a great guy. It is the example of a church having a vision for the neighborhood and acting on it. I would think they pay taxes on this, as sales are conducted and profit is made for the tennants.


August 31, 2007, 04:20:53 PM
I had no idea that it hadn't opened when I stopped by last Saturday.  Since the officially opening was this week, I stopped by around 2:30pm today and there was a decent crowd.  The Soul Food Bistro must be really good because it was jam packed.  It will be interesting to see what type of tenants eventually fill out the rest of the spaces, because the mall now has limited visibility to Normandy Blvd, since Sleiman's strip center went up.


September 02, 2007, 07:27:54 AM
The Mall God Built

The Potter's House Christian Fellowship will take profits from the center to pay for missionary projects


The mall has always been a temple for dedicated shoppers, but a new Jacksonville shopping center is taking that concept and making shopping a tangibly religious experience.

The Kingdom Plaza at the Normandy Mall is part shopping mecca and part Christian mission. The freshly refurbished mall is owned by the Potter's House Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational mega church on the Westside. The for-profit mall is geared toward religious fundraising: any profits left over after paying mall expenses will be rolled over into the church's missionary projects.

Spinning off nonprofit entities linked with for-profit businesses is increasingly common, according to industry analysts, but the scope of this venture is a rarity.

The mall's stores are a mix of local and national tenants, but the place has an overwhelmingly Christian vibe, including a Rite 2 Life nutrition shop (slated to open in October) and the Kingdom Kuts barber shop.

The church itself owns three of the biggest tenants: a bowling alley, the mall's sole eatery and a gym, complete with inspirational scripture painted on the walls above the treadmills.

The marriage between religion and retail is nothing new. Churches and religious charities have been raising money with thrift shops and bake sales for years. But the Kingdom Plaza is augmenting that concept into a full-scale, for-profit venture.

Kingdom Plaza is nestled in the former Normandy Mall, a shopping center that was vacant for several years until Potter's House purchased the property in 2003 for $4 million and commenced $7.5 million worth of renovations.

Inside, the mall's interior looks like any other indoor shopping center. There's a fountain babbling in the center, the smell of food wafting through the walkways and diamonds glittering on cushions in one shop window. But then there are the tinges of religion: The mention of a "King" in shop logos, the pictures of the cross in a jewelry store.

Plus, the mall is literally within steps of the Potter's House church, a building so large, its main sanctuary fits more than 4,000, and the children's church seats 600.

The next-door mall was the brainchild of the local leader of Potter's House, Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin. He has a dual vision of the mall, conceptualizing it as an extension of the ministry where people can have a "clean and decent" time and troubled folks can find employment.

To him, "keeping busy" and doing commerce is what God intended parishioners to do while they are waiting for judgment day.

"We are creating synergy between the mission and business," he said. "They shouldn't be separate. Business is human nature; it's what we do."

McLaughlin sees the mall as a potentially profitable enterprise, one that can compete with local malls and bankroll future ministry-related projects - while perhaps enticing potential new church members. He often plugs the mall during his sermons.

Kingdom Plaza is taxed

While it's common for religious entities to expand into enterprise, this project seems uniquely aggressive, according to Dan Busby, vice president of Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an organization aimed at guiding Christian organizations toward sound and ethic financial standards.

"I haven't heard of anything exactly like that," he said. "It's fairly common for large churches to have bookstores or other enterprises in town that might generate some funds. But by leasing space to a lot of businesses, this sounds like an expansion beyond what many mega churches would have."

Kingdom Plaza is taxed like any other business, unlike its parent, the Potter's House. The spinoff enterprises are usually created as for-profit corporations in order to control taxation, Busby said.

"The aim is to clearly pay taxes on what should be taxed, and not have any issues from the business income that would negatively impact the church corporation," he said.

As money for nonprofits become increasingly difficult to obtain, many are opting to start outside businesses (an activity dubbed social enterprise), according to Rena Coughlin, chief executive officer of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.

"More and more tax-exempt organizations seek to diverse their revenue streams by developing enterprises, most of which are loosely linked to their mission," she said. "With tougher and tougher budget cuts, I think that everyone is looking at diversification. It's dangerous when you are over-dependent on a revenue stream, particularly on the whim of political decision makers."

Grand opening in October

The center will be at full capacity when it has its grand opening in October. A real estate agency, luxe spa, and a trendy shoe shop are all slated to open. (Not welcome: lingerie shops or stores retailing golden "grill" teeth.) It's also attracted at least one national tenant, cell phone retailer Clear Talk Communications.

The connection with a religious organization wasn't controversial for the brand, according to store manager Juan Queeley. He does admit that church administrators have asked him "many, many" times to become a member of the church.

The mall could be a shrewd move for national retailers.

For one, there seems to be a built-in audience. The church has several weekly services, and McLaughlin hopes parishioners flood the mall afterward.

He also plans to juice the profit by placing related businesses near each other. For example, the bowling alley is near a party supply store for bowling party supplies, and if church members are getting married in the nearby sanctuary, they can rent or buy formal wear in the mall's bridal shop.

When shopping at Rich Carmichael's custom-printed T-shirt shop, you may get a side of spirituality with your order. He often whips out his Bible to minister to customers who stop at Glorious Tee's and Totes for custom heat-pressed religious shirts. He says the mall was the perfect home for his business because the rent is reasonable - and he can proselytize to his heart's content.

"I can read the Bible when I take a break, and then get back to work," he said. "And nobody here will tell me I can't."

Linking the message with the merchandise is the best way to ensure such a project's success, nonprofit expert Coughlin said.

"The toughest time in terms in sustaining themselves and having meaningful income are the ones that go outside their mission statement," she said.

"God created the business model," said Narlene McLaughlin, the bishop's wife and an administrator with the church. "Some people say religion and business should be segmented and separate, but that's just not true.",

(904) 359-4404


May 15, 2010, 12:25:31 AM
Thats a pretty amazing project, not to mention , undertaking and it has all the signs of complete success!   I well remember this mall as a child ,,,and remember the years it has sat nearly vacant. 
Nice to see a place I would never have suspected could be a success again, given the much larger and more spacious Malls .    This is a PRIME example of " Where there is a will , there is a way" 

 :) Nice job on the Normandy Mall.  Amazing actually!!


May 15, 2010, 07:33:16 AM
I work not far from there in Murray Hill but have not been shopping at the mall. I will go check it out.


May 15, 2010, 10:16:26 AM
If there is an Orange Julius there, I will go.


Remember that mall as a kid, same with Cedar Hills having a twin theater and cheap pizza and JC Penney.

My how times have changed.


May 25, 2010, 10:23:45 AM
You guys finally did it! Ive been waiting on this article for a awhile. Ive been a memeber of this church for 11 years and there is always constant growth. The bishop has "vision", which is something Mayor Peyton and the city of jacksonville needs to take notes on.  ;)


May 25, 2010, 10:25:18 AM
If there is an Orange Julius there, I will go.


Remember that mall as a kid, same with Cedar Hills having a twin theater and cheap pizza and JC Penney.

My how times have changed.

S&S Cafeteria


May 25, 2010, 02:53:44 PM
You guys finally did it! Ive been waiting on this article for a awhile. Ive been a memeber of this church for 11 years and there is always constant growth. The bishop has "vision", which is something Mayor Peyton and the city of jacksonville needs to take notes on.  ;)

  I could not have put it in better terms myself , D D ..   Amen


May 25, 2010, 03:07:14 PM
Well thats good, better then it going to waste.


May 25, 2010, 04:32:33 PM
Soul Food Bistro has some mighty good eats.  Best bake Spaghetti I've ever had.


May 25, 2010, 04:34:37 PM
I have heard about the spagetti. I never go during the week. I usually go on Saturday and after church on Sunday. They only do the spgaetti during the week.


May 25, 2010, 10:39:40 PM
It is simply incredible what they did with a mall  that at one time was all but completely closed.

 My hat is off to this effort. and the Mall is pretty stunning , considering where it once was.
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