Brothers Mel (who died in 2009) and Herb Simon built the shopping mall developer they founded in 1960 as Melvin Simon & Associates into the country’s largest mall owner, known since 1998 as Simon Property Group.
The pair also were instrumental in revitalizing downtown. They were intimately involved in the tortuous, decades-long gestation of the downtown shopping complex that would one day become Circle Centre mall. When it finally opened in 1995, it was built and operated by Simon Property Group—and remains so to this day.
The real estate magnates have donated large sums (some of it posthumously) to various causes and groups, including $50 million from The Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation for construction of the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center and the Joshua Max Simon Cancer Research Fund.
One of their greatest gifts to Indianapolis was stepping in to save the Indiana Pacers. In 1983, the owners of the Pacers, fresh off an abysmal season in which the team sold just 1,255 season tickets and averaged only 4,000 fans per game, started shopping the team. If an out-of-towner had taken the deal, Indy would have lost what was then its only major league pro franchise, just as it was ramping up efforts to attract an NFL team. Disaster was averted when the Simons agreed to purchase the franchise. Taking on a basketball team was quite a stretch for two men steeped in real estate, but it worked.
“The Simon family did a remarkable thing, to step in and really cause that to happen,” said David Frick, Bill Hudnut’s deputy mayor at the time of the deal. “They had plenty of other things to occupy their time, but they stepped forward and saved the Pacers.”