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'Project Malibu': Final sale of Knoxville Center Mall property coming 'soon' to yet-to-be-named company

Demolition on the existing East Towne building could start as early as March, said Harold Cannon, Knoxville's Director of Engineering.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The old Knoxville Center Mall property is getting close to having a new owner, but the company that's looking to buy it is keeping quiet about its identity -- at least for now.

On Thursday, the city of Knoxville held a virtual call with a representative for the company as well as a developer that's been in local headlines recently: Hillwood Enterprises, LP.

Hillwood's subsidiary, Hillwood Investment Properties, recently began work on an Amazon fulfillment center in Alcoa. Hillwood is known for being involved with developing warehouses across the U.S. for e-commerce giants Amazon and Wayfair -- which have both been posed as possible occupants for the Knoxville property.

Officials with the city of Knoxville said they expect to announce a sale "soon," but could not give a more specific time frame at this point. 

Center Mall's demolition could start as early as March, though, according to Harold Cannon, Knoxville's Director of Engineering.

In November 2020, Knoxville City Council approved Hillwood's rezoning request to transform the Center Mall property into a light industrial zone. The building plans proposed by Hillwood Enterprises and approved by the City of Knoxville show Hillwood intends to build an e-commerce fulfillment and distribution center on the site.

The Knoxville project, dubbed "Project Malibu," bears a striking resemblance to "Project Pearl" in Alcoa, which turned out to be a new Amazon fulfillment center. Tennessee and Governor Bill Lee have in the past touted new Amazon projects that began with code names like these, such as "Pearl," Sam" and "Charm."  

Yet to be seen are renderings of the proposed building, which would provide a big clue to the company involved. Renderings for Amazon centers typically include a few distinctive design choices -- most notably a particular shade of blue that's used in its Prime logos along the top of the buildings and elsewhere. You can see recent examples below from renderings of Amazon's Mt. Juliet and Texas centers:

Credit: State of TN
Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Amazon center rendering
Credit: KVUE
Amazon rendering offered for Pflugerville, Texas, project.

RELATED: City Council approves Knoxville Center Mall "light industrial" rezoning

The old "East Towne Mall" closed at the end of January 2020 after many years of declining business due partly to the rapid rise of e-commerce.