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Flashback: Alabama's Biggest Retail Story

Jim Wilson Jr. headed the commercial division of Aronov Realty from 1962-1971, co-founded Colonial Properties with Ed Lowder in 1972 and formed his own company in 1975.

Jim Wilson Jr. headed the commercial division of Aronov Realty from 1962-1971, co-founded Colonial Properties with Ed Lowder in 1972 and formed his own company in 1975.

“How’s it going?” bellowed 6 foot 2 inch Jim Wilson Jr., addressing some 300 construction workers from the back of a pickup truck, parked at Center Court of the $300 million Riverchase Galleria, underneath “the biggest skylight in the world.”

“You’re working on something that there is not anything like anywhere in the United States,” Wilson told his team. “It is the biggest construction project in America today.”

Business Alabama profiled Wilson and Alabama’s biggest ever retail development in the February 1986 issue, our second month of publication.

Wilson was working on fulfillment of Shopping Center Rule No. 1: One does not miss a mall opening. We caught up with him as he was preparing for a Nov. 19 grand opening, delivering 1.5 million square feet of shopping space for the holiday season.

“When we started the grading operation out here, we moved more rock on this site than there is in the great pyramid of Egypt,” Wilson told our writer.

No false modesty in describing the dimensions of his project, but neither was Wilson personally boastful.

“I have a background in accounting, so the numbers come easy,” he said. “And I am a salesman.”

Operating out of Montgomery, where he was born, Wilson became one of the most prolific mall builders in the U.S. The Galleria was his 22nd shopping center, with the 23rd, the Wiregrass Commons, in Dothan, on the drawing boards.

“I am not after any records,” Wilson, age 51, told us. “I enjoy the family and the children, and I am not trying to pave the world.”

When Wilson passed away in 2006, at age 71, he had developed more than 100 projects totaling more than 20 million square feet, including The Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, The Shoppes at EastChase in Montgomery and Metro Center in Jackson, Miss.

This November, Riverchase Galleria celebrated a grand reopening after renovations with a price tag now topping $100 million. It is still owned by Jim Wilson & Associates, along with General Growth Properties.

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