When the renovation of the old Houston Mall is complete, it won’t be recognizable as a former retail center of Warner Robins.
The more than 300,000-square-foot building at 233 North Houston Road was Houston County’s prime shopping destination from the 1970s into the ‘90s. Then the big retailers abandoned the space for the new mall in Centerville.
Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms said he was a child when Houston Mall was being built, “and it was an extremely exciting time.”
“There was not much of Warner Robins past Houston Road at the time, and it was a major attraction for this community,” Toms said.
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In the mid-1990s, Houston Healthcare bought the former Sears building -- a building just south of the mall -- and has used it as an outpatient medical building for years.
During the ensuing years, various retailers moved in and out of the old mall building. Warner Robins Municipal Court and Georgia Probation Management moved into spaces in the rear of the building, where they remain for now. An OB-GYN office also opened in the back of the mall, but many spots remained vacant.
Houston Healthcare bought the former mall building a couple of years ago, and this past summer began a multi-phase, $10 million transformation to turn the facility into a medical office building for physician suites.
The entire complex will be called the Houston Health Pavilion.
The hot dog stand is gone from the mall, and the large fountain and trees have been removed.
“If you left Warner Robins and knew the old mall, and came back after I’m finished with this, you would swear we tore it down and rebuilt it,” said Jim Sequin, director of engineering for Houston Healthcare. “It will be that beautiful.”
Toms indicated that the medical center’s project likely will transform the area.
“I believe that the hospital’s commitment to renovate and populate the Houston Mall facility demonstrates a belief in the north side of Warner Robins,” he said. “The city of Warner Robins is planning ... parks and recreational growth in that area. It is tremendous to have a partner like the Houston Medical Center with their leadership to pave the way for the redevelopment of the north side of town.”
CONSTRUCTION WORK DONE IN PHASES
The renovation, being done by Perry-based Parrish Construction Group, includes four major projects, Sequin said.
The entire roof is being replaced, and nearly all of the exterior is being redone. Meanwhile, the entire interior common area is being renovated, and the east parking lot will be new, he said.
Work on the parking lot includes tearing up all the old asphalt, retrofitting the stormwater system, running new electrical wiring and installing new lighting.
“The whole configuration of the parking lot changes,” he said. “The new parking lot ... (will have) a lot of curb and gutter, with quite a few islands with landscaping. We tried to break it up. People get in that parking lot and drag race. The southernmost islands will have landscaping; the others will be concrete walkways.”
Another noticeable change to the exterior is a large covered pick-up/drop-off area at the main entrance to the pavilion. It will be large enough for three cars to park parallel to each other.
The project has a lot of simultaneously moving parts that must be coordinated, Sequin said. For instance, the completion of the first two phases of the parking lot will coordinate with Phase One completion of both the interior and exterior work to that point, he said.
“All the parking necessary to get people into the (pavilion) will be there while we do the other phases in pieces,” he said. “So by the end of February or March next year, the first two phases of the parking lot will be complete (and) most of the interior will be complete.”
Inside, all the flooring has been removed and new carpet squares are being installed. The ceiling will feature new skylights, and the heating and cooling system is being replaced.
The building’s exterior will be beige stucco, which mimics the color of the main hospital, Sequin said.
The hospital already has moved its business and accounting office into the building as well as its community education department, called EduCare, which holds chronic disease management classes and support group meetings.
Phase Two of the interior redo -- which is the common area now only accessible from the back of the building -- is expected to begin about March 2015 with completion sometime in October, he said.
“There are no present plans to move” the municipal court and probation office, Sequin said. However, Sun Beauty Supply in the front of the building eventually will leave, he said.
“We are not going to extend the lease, so they will be going,” he said.
Developers expect the building mostly will be used for medical suites “where physicians would see their out-patients there, and they would have a short drive to the hospital to visit with their in-patients,” Sequin said.
“We don’t have any potential renters. We haven’t even pursued that,” he said. “Our hope is once we get the first two phases of the parking lot done and get the interior done, we’ll have something to walk physicians through to show them how nice the facility is.”
Each office will be retrofitted as needed from about 3,000 square feet and larger.
Gary Lee, executive director of the Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency, agreed with Toms that the new facility will affect that whole area of town.
“I’ve been here my whole life,” Lee said. “We saw it as being the mall of the future, and we saw it change from what it was to what it’s becoming. For that end of town, it means so much.”
The city recently bought about 65 acres for a proposed sports complex on the north end of North Houston Road. Also, there has been talk about a Wal-Mart grocery store be built at the corner of Green Street and North Houston Road in the former Family Mart.
So the new medical office complex “will change the whole complexity of that north side of town,” Lee said. “It’s a domino effect. ... Then you can talk to other entities to come.”