EDITORIAL: Circle Centre worth watching

June 26, 2010

City government brought Circle Centre into this world. It makes sense, then, that city government is involved in positioning it for the future.

The 15-year-old complex that resurrected downtown’s retail trade will reach a crossroads in the coming months, as deals for anchor stores Nordstrom and Carson Pirie Scott come up for renewal. As IBJ reported last week, the city is involved, along with mall manager and co-owner Simon Property Group, in negotiations to retain the stores.

It makes sense that the city is involved in securing Circle Centre’s future. The retail business is a numbers game—and the mall’s flagging sales raise questions about its ability to retain its collection of first-tier retailers over the long haul. But the mall has never been just about the numbers. It’s been, from the beginning, part business venture and part civic endeavor.

It exists not because Simon Property Group’s predecessor, the private Melvin Simon & Associates, thought downtown Indianapolis was the best place for a new mall but because the city fathers appealed to Mel and Herb Simon to put their considerable clout as retail developers behind the effort to resurrect downtown as a shopping destination.

Their willingness kicked off almost two decades of work on the part of city officials, historic preservationists and numerous corporate partners, including the Simons, to structure the complex deal that allowed Circle Centre to open in September 1995.

After all that effort and considerable investment on the part of the city and the 20 mostly local companies that have a stake in the mall, it would be naïve to expect the city to stand on the sidelines and let nature—in this case, retail sales—take its course.

Sales numbers alone don’t tell the full story of Circle Centre. Unlike downtown malls that have come and gone in other cities, Circle Centre is typically bustling with activity. It’s the connective tissue of a downtown built for conventions and major sporting events, tying together different venues and giving visiting conventioneers and sports fans a place to gather and shop before and after games, between meetings and after hours.
Likewise, it’s a magnet for downtown workers and the slowly but steadily growing population of downtown dwellers.

That not enough of them have been opening their wallets lately could be a function of the recession—or it could have something to do with what brings them to the mall in the first place. Someone who has come downtown to catch a game at Conseco Fieldhouse is probably more likely to spend $10 in the mall’s food court than to shell out hundreds of dollars for a new suit or dress.

Regardless of why the mall’s numbers are down, as long as it draws a crowd and plays a vital role in the life of downtown, the city is smart to do everything in its power—within reason—to help it endure.•


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