The area's roads have always been an interest of mine. I don't post much, but I've been on Shoals forums (even going back to the Usenet days) for over 15 years now and the majority of my posts have probably discussed transportation.
- A lot of legwork was done in the 80s and 90s concerning the supposed "Memphis to Atlanta Highway". That would have been an interstate basically paralleling US 72 (if not replacing it for stretches) to Huntsville, then running southeast across Sand and Lookout Mountains into Georgia. Whether north or south of the river, this would have been the absolute best case scenario for our area. I always heard that Alabama was on board with getting it done, but Mississippi and Georgia had very little interest in doing their parts. Interstate 22, running through Tupelo and Jasper to Birmingham, has killed this proposal for good.
- The "West Alabama Freeway" idea has been kicked around for years. This would be either a freeway or toll road from the Shoals, through Tuscaloosa, to Mobile. It would pass through some very rural parts of the state and be a supposed "economic boon" to those areas. Unfortunately those areas also don't have a lot of political clout. In our poor state, the money for this project has just never materialized, if the idea has even gotten further than the drawing board. I wouldn't be opposed to using a toll road to get where I need to go, if it means a faster trip, but I may be in the minority of Alabamians on that.
- The US 43/AL 157 projects were long promised to help the Shoals. The four-lane 157 certainly improves travel time to Birmingham. The US 43 project should have been done at least 10 if not 20 years ago, as Nashville and southern middle Tennessee is growing daily and that link is important. Perhaps in another five years this will be complete.
- The Patton Island Bridge corridor should have been a freeway from Florence Blvd to AL 20 - period. The Shoals' "leadership", either locally or at the state level (or both), really dropped the ball there. It's a mess of a road, as is. A great "what if" for the area would have been a Memphis-Atlanta interstate running just south of the existing AL 20, with the PIB corridor a spur freeway into Florence (such as 565 from 65 into Huntsville).
- The ONLY remaining option the area has for ever seeing a true interstate connection, is for a sometimes-talked-about extension of 565 west from Decatur all the way down AL 20 to the Shoals. I put the chances of this happening at less than 5%, however. The state just can't (or won't) afford it.
- The City of Florence can't even get College Street extended to Savannah Highway, or a simple roundabout installed, without debating it for years. It's no wonder the "outer loop" of Cox Creek Parkway never happened. Even the half from the industrial area out to Shoal Creek would've been helpful.
Now all of this ties back into "I'm stilling calling it Regency Square" Mall, believe it or not. The Shoals likes to see itself as an "economic hub" for a surrounding area. The thought was that good roads would pull people in from Athens, Moulton, Russellville, Iuka MS, Savannah TN, Lawrenceburg TN, etc. But the world has gotten smaller. If people in those areas are looking for places to shop, they have more options now than ever in places like Huntsville, Nashville, Tupelo, etc, and it's not that much longer of a drive. Why come to the Shoals? Meanwhile, if they can't find it in their own hometown, they can always just buy it online. The Shoals as a "destination" shopping experience is just not a viable long-term idea.
As for the mall itself, there IS a population here to support it, but its purpose/focus may have to evolve. There area a lot of redundant stores now in the Cox Creek area. Do we need three or four sporting goods stores? Do we need Kohl's/JCPenney/Belk all competing for the same customers? Maybe now a Burlington Coat Factory too? The odds are one (if not two) will be forced out. If the mall loses both JCP and Belk, for example, that could be three or four anchor pads to fill. I don't know what the answer will be to draw people back in, but I'm not sure it's more of the same type of retail.
I love my hometown of Florence and appreciate all the positive growth we have seen, especially downtown. It's interesting to see if some of the trend for shopping/dining leaving downtown to head out to Florence Blvd/Cox Creek, which has been happening for 50 years, isn't finally starting to reverse.