UPDATE: Simon remembered for vision, courage

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A Friday funeral is planned for a man who made a fortune building shopping malls across the U.S. and later became a prolific philanthropist in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis.

Melvin Simon, 82, succumbed this morning after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Simon, the son of a New York City tailor, was co-owner with brother Herb of the Indiana Pacers basketball franchise and chairman emeritus of Simon Property Group Inc., the nation’s largest owner of retail real estate.

Simon helped change the way America shops as a pioneer of the enclosed shopping mall, said Dan Smith, dean of the Kelley School of Business at IU.

“It took a great deal of vision and courage, because this was a very new concept,” Smith said. “People had to change their shopping practices; if they had not changed, this would have gone down very fast.”

Simon also was instrumental in the resurgence of downtown Indianapolis as a champion of Circle Centre mall in the mid-1990s and as a buyer of the financially strapped Indiana Pacers in the mid-1980s.

“It would be a much lesser city were it not for the generosity of Mel and his entire family,” Smith said.

More recently, Simon focused on philanthropic endeavors, including gifts of $10 million to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and $50 million for the IU Simon Cancer Center, including an endowment in honor of his late son Joshua Max Simon.

“He was a model for this community—I can’t say enough about him not only as a business man but as a charitable person,” said Sidney D. Eskenazi, the first attorney for Melvin Simon & Associates and now CEO of locally based Sandor Development Co. “Indianapolis has been lucky to have a family like the Simons, Mel in particular. We’ve lost a community icon.”

Mayor Greg Ballard called Simon a “true partner and friend.”

“Mel and the entire Simon family have done great work in strengthening our local economy and improving our downtown district,” Ballard said in a written statement. “Mel will be truly missed and forever remembered for his many contributions to this city and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this time.”

Simon’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, 600 W. 70th St. A private internment will follow.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Joshua Max Simon Primary Care Center at St. Vincent Hospital.

Simon was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 21, 1926, to Max and Mae Simon, and graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA from City College in New York.

In 1953, the Army sent Simon to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. Simon stuck around after leaving the military, taking a $100-a-week job leasing space at the Eastgate Shopping Center, according to The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. He would later buy the center.

He formed Melvin Simon & Associates in 1960 with brothers Fred and Herb. They began by developing strip centers but soon sought to cash in on the enclosed-mall craze. The company grew fast, opening a couple of malls per year in the 1970s and 1980s.

Simon had tremendous vision, even in the early days when money was tight; he would see a piece of property and decide on the spot it was perfect for a shopping center, Eskenazi said.

He was generous, humble and honest with friends as well as business associates, said longtime friend Barton Kaufman.

“Melvin was a man who was only interested in win-win situations,” Kaufman said. “He wanted to win in the transaction, but he also wanted you to win. They don’t make them like him anymore; he was an original.”

Simon Property Group went public in 1995, acquired several of its competitors and today has interests in 320 retail properties in the U.S. and more than 60 international properties. Simon’s son, David, serves as the company’s CEO.

Even as Melvin Simon’s health began to fail in recent years, he kept in touch with the real estate business. He made the rounds on a scooter at the 2008 International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas, cracking jokes and catching up with old friends.

Simon and his wife, Bren, also kept in touch with Hollywood friends he made during an unsuccessful foray into moviemaking in the 1980s, and with prominent Democratic leaders such as former President Bill Clinton. The Simons hosted political fundraisers and lavish parties over the years at their Carmel estate known as Asherwood.

The most recent calculations by Forbes say Simon has a net worth of about $1.3 billion, down from $3.4 billion in 2007. Simon’s fortune took a hit after shares in Simon Property Group fell sharply in 2008, but he likely made up ground as the share price has risen for 2009. He was ranked among the 600 richest men in the world.

Simon has won numerous honors for his business acumen and philanthropic efforts. They include the Jewish Welfare Federation’s Man of the Year, the Horatio Alger Award, appointment as a lifetime trustee of the Urban Land Institute, and a spot in the Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame.

He is survived by Bren, his wife of 40 years; his children, Deborah Simon, Cynthia Simon Skjodt, David Simon and Tammy McCauley; his grandchildren, Eli, Rebecca, Hannah, Noah and Sam Simon; Erik, Samantha and Ian Skjodt; Tasha and Dylan McCauley; and his brothers, Fred and Herbert. He was preceded in death by son Joshua Max Simon.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............