Century III Mall
Named after the United State’s 1976 bicentennial, Century III Mall is an abandoned shopping center in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. It was the third-largest enclosed mall in the world at 1.6 million square feet at the time of its completion in 1979.
In the early 20th century, Carnegie-Illinois Steel, then a component of United States Steel (USS), began to purchase properties along Lewis Run in West Mifflin for use as a slag dump. 1 Slag, a waste product of steel production, was transported from regional steel mills via the Union Railroad to what became known as Brown’s Dump. The slag hardened as tough as concrete and grew to encompass 70 million cubic yards of slag 200 feet high and 410 acres in size. 4
In 1969, USS Realty Development, a division of USS, assumed control of Brown’s Dump and began searching for a different use for the site. 1 4 Bulldozers dug into the mountainside and began removing nearly five million cubic yards of slag, much of it used in roadways to strengthen concrete surfaces and bridges. Elsewhere, 25 acres of land along Pennsylvania Route 51 was prepped for commercial use and mined-out coal shafts and tunnels were filled. By 1974, numerous businesses were operating at the base of the mountain.
USS Realty began clearing and preparing another 110 acres at Lebanon Church Road and Regis Avenue for development, and in 1976, formed a partnership with the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation of Youngstown, Ohio to develop Century III Mall on the site. 1 4 An additional 86 acres of land was prepared for the proposed shopping center, which included the excavation of an additional 15 million cubic yards of slag, soil, and rock. 1
DeBartolo proposed spending $100 million 7 to construct a 1.6 million square-feet shopping center 6 with five department stores, 190 inline shops and restaurants, 6,000 parking spaces, a racketball court, and a skateboard park. 7 The first major retailer to secure construction permits for Century III was J.C. Penny on June 18, 1978. Foundation work had already begun for the $2.8 million, two-story building but a permit for steel superstructure construction was still needed. 5 The first steel was lifted into place for Century III on October 10, 1978. 1 6 7
The first phase of Century III Mall opened on October 25, 1979. 1 It included Kaufmann’s, J.C. Penny, and 75 shops and restaurants. 7 (J.C. Penny closed its Southland Shopping Center location.) The second phase opened on March 12, 1980, and included a three-level Montgomery Ward, 46 tenants, “Pittsburgh Reflections,” a sculpture by Doug Pickering that depicted “the strength and vitality of the people of southwestern Pennsylvania,” 2 8 Olde Pittsburgh, a recreation of a Pittsburgh street scene from 1890, and “The Courtyard,” a three-level panoramic food court.
Gimbels, first announced on March 8, 1979, 7 opened its store on July 25 10 in space that was originally designated for the Joseph Horne department store. 3 The Horne Company elected to occupy a different location in the mall with a targeted opening of 1981 or 1982 7 but ultimately did not build at the shopping center until it replaced Montgomery Ward in 1986. The exterior design of the department store, faced with adobe style bricks, was designed by Robert J. Bridges of New York. 9
Sears opened its store on October 6, 1980, which included a 24-bay auto center, beauty salon, optical department, photography studio, and key shop. 11 (Sears closed its old store at 2930 Lebanon Church Road.)
A 12-screen movie theater was added in 1990. 14
Anchors at Century III changed hands frequently in the 1980s and 1990s as chains went bankrupt or merged with other corporations.
Montgomery Ward began to decline after World War II after the company declined to update and modernize its existing stores, and heavily invest in new locations. The Century III location closed in 1985 and was replaced by Horne’s in October 1986 12 after an $11 million renovation. 13 Horne’s was acquired by Federated Department Store’s Lazarus division in 1994 and the store was rebranded as Lazarus. It became Kauffman’s Furniture Gallery in 1998. The Kauffman’s brand was retired after Federated merged all of its divisions into Macy’s on September 9, 2006. The rebranded store, Macy’s Furniture Gallery, closed in March 2009. 19
Gimbels closed in 1988 and T.J. Maxx opened in the lower level of the former Gimbels in 1989 16/1993. 15 It became a T.J. Maxx ‘n More in August 1998 17 and closed on January 25, 2003. 16 T.J. Max was replaced by Steve & Barry’s. Marshall’s opened in the upper level of the old Gimbels in 1993 and was replaced by Wickes Furniture in February 1997. Wickes closed in 2004 and was replaced by Dick’s Sporting Goods. 18
Kauffman’s became a Lazarus in 1994 and Macy’s in September 2006. Steve & Barry’s filed for bankruptcy in July 2008 and liquidated all of its stores in November. 19
In August 1996, the DeBartolo Realty Group was acquired by Simon Property Group, forming North America’s largest real estate company in a deal valued at $3 billion. 22 At the time, Century III boasted six anchors and 200 stores and restaurants. 20 The mall began a slow decline in the early 21st century after The Waterfront opened in nearby Homestead in 1999 and South Hills Village renovated its center in Bethel Park. Both lured tenants and customers away from the aging mall.
As recently as 2006, the mall was assessed at a value of $150 million before dropping to $27 million by 2012. 20 Simon Property Group, unable to stem the growing vacancy issue at Century III, defaulted on its $79 million loan in 2011. Century III was acquired by an asset management firm based in Texas, which was then sold to Moonbeam Capital Investments of Las Vegas in June 2013 for $10.5 million. 21
On September 3, 2017, Century III Mall PA LLC, an affiliate of Moonbeam, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to stave off a looming sheriff’s sale because of a legal dispute with Sears. 23 The remaining interior concourse tenants began vacating in February 2019 after being given a 30-day notice to vacate and in early March 2019, a bankruptcy judge granted the mall to reject Dick Sporting Good’s lease, and the store closed on March 30.
In June, Moonbeam announced its intention to demolish the nearly vacant Century III mall and replace it with a mixed-use development with offices, hotels, restaurants, and residences. 24 It intended to keep the portion of the mall containing JC Penny, the sole remaining tenant.