Moviegoers pass the shuttered entrance to the Wilson Mall on Friday to catch an afternoon show at the Carmike Cinemas.
Brie Handgraaf | Times
By Brie Handgraaf
Times Staff Writer
After more than three years of whispers among residents about the fate of the Wilson Mall, property owners announced a preliminary plan to transform the defunct retail center into a medical corridor to complement the work at nearby Wilson Medical Center.
“You have a tremendous community asset with the hospital that is only getting bigger and better,” said John Mulherin, vice president of government relations for Hull Property Group, which owns the mall property. “We think the creation of a defined medical node with the right look and feel will help orchestrate big things for Wilson.”
Hull bought Parkwood Mall in 2005 and invested in transforming the property with upgrades, rebranding and the addition of the 10-screen Carmike Cinemas. The company hoped to redevelop the Kroger grocery that shuttered in 2004, but a shift in retail toward Raleigh Road Parkway and the recession hampered its plans. The closures seen in Wilson happened to malls across the country, but Hull member manager Jim Hull said staff worked hard to fight the trend while being good stewards of the property rather than filling the storefronts without question.
“I don’t believe the mall property will be repurposed for retail,” Hull said. “Our hope is to save the theater, the restaurant and other current uses, but the facility formerly occupied as a mall isn’t realistic in today’s world of retail.”
Hull is considering demolishing the unoccupied buildings to make way for doctors’ offices and residential uses, but the plan is not set in stone.
“We have a concept we need to flesh out,” Mulherin said. “If consensus is that it makes sense to move forward, then we’ll pursue it.”
Lisa Briley, Wilson Medical Center’s director of marketing and development, said the plan could be beneficial to the community as well as the roughly 130 physicians in 25 specialty areas active on the hospital staff.
“For some types of physicians, proximity to the hospital is a plus,” she said. “This is especially true of physicians that perform procedures in the hospital. We already have quite a few practices that are near the hospital.
“As the medical center grows, there could be the need for more prime medical office space.”
One such need that is not currently filled in the medical community of Wilson is a hospice care center. Home Health and Hospice Care President and CEO Dean Lee said HHC has an office near the medical center that often makes referrals to the Kitty Askins Hospice Center it operates in Goldsboro.
“We have a good working relationship in Wilson and I feel it is a true partnership with the medical community there,” Lee said. “Since we provide home, health hospice and private-duty services, we get quite a few referrals from that area to Kitty Askins.”
He and marketing director Cale Grady said a push for a hospice center in Wilson would require a certificate of need through the state as well as an outpouring of support from the community.
“We’re always looking for opportunities where we can help and expand in the communities we serve,” Grady said.
Kitty Askins is a 24-bed facility that has half reserved for acute care and half reserved for residential care, often helping patients given a six-month terminal diagnosis by doctors.
“One of the things that people don’t realize is that when caring for a loved one who is terminally ill is that you are so focused on caregiving that you don’t have the luxury of being a spouse, a brother or a daughter,” Lee said. “Hospice allows you to be (near) that loved one but that is an aspect many don’t understand or consider.”
While Greenville also has a hospice center and a significant medical community with the headquarters of Vidant Health, Briley said Wilson has a growing need for doctors, especially those specializing in caring for the aging population.
“The Brody School of Medicine has been a tremendous asset in increasing the potential supply of physicians across all of eastern North Carolina,” said Briley.