Circle Centre, the shopping mall that helped launch one of the most vibrant downtown revitalizations in the Midwest, needs a new champion.
Twenty years have passed since visionary former mayors Bill Hudnut and Steve Goldsmith, along with local mall magnate Herb Simon, all but willed the building out of the ground to anchor the embryonic renewal. Times have changed, though, and now the mall is suffering.
As reporter Scott Olson noted in last week’s IBJ, Circle Centre has lost storefronts and turned some space over to less-lucrative tenants, including Brown Mackie College and The Indianapolis Star. Nordstrom pulled up stakes in 2011 and fellow anchor Carson Pirie Scott last year renegotiated its lease with manager Simon Property Group Inc. to save $300,000 in rent for the next three years.
Circle Centre ironically also is a victim of its success. Its opening helped spark an explosion of restaurants, entertainment and venues, including Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Now, the mall is only one of many worthy destinations.
Yet, while the mall no longer is the sole connecting tissue downtown, it remains a major link among key office buildings and the Indiana Convention Center—and well worth turning around before the decline gets worse.
Vacancies aren’t the only evidence of decline. Neglect is apparent in rusting architectural details and cracks spreading across sidewalks. It’s less and less the kind of place that attracts the prosperous people Indianapolis needs as residents.
But who will spearhead the mall’s revitalization? Several parties have skin in the game, but none have stepped up to make it a front-burner issue.
Simon owns only 14.7 percent of the property. Visit Indy, which depends on the mall to help attract conventions and tourists, owns none of it. The city owns the land and the building itself, but Mayor Greg Ballard is understandably distracted with crime and other pressing concerns.
There is less time for a turnaround than may be apparent. Ballard leaves office at the end of the year and his replacement will need months to put an administration in place. By then, the Carson Pirie Scott contract will be hurtling toward an end. If Carson’s doesn’t see a way forward, it might pull out and leave the mall anchorless, which almost certainly would accelerate the decline.
Of all the stakeholders, the city bears the most responsibility for renewal. Mayors got the ball rolling. And the city has a major interest in freshening a pillar of its revitalized downtown. Joe Hogsett, the leading Democrat for mayor, and Chuck Brewer, the leading Republican, should say how they’d save the mall.
Simon, which has relationships with all the nation’s major retailers, must be at the table as well, as should the 19 other companies that invested in the mall. It’s time for all the players to act with the same sense of urgency that got Circle Centre built in the first place.•
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