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EDITORIAL: Circle Centre needs bolder vision

October 3, 2015

We’ve talked repeatedly in this space about the need to upgrade downtown’s Circle Centre mall, which is showing its age these days, in part because of a dearth of reinvestment since it opened 20 years ago.

So we’re glad mall manager Simon Property Group finally has a revamp plan on the table. We only wish it were more ambitious.

As IBJ was the first to report last month, Simon is proposing some $20 million in improvements to freshen the 752,000-square-foot property and make it easier and more inviting for passers-by to step inside.

The mall ownership group—Simon and 18 other local companies that pumped $75 million into the $320 million project in the early 1990s—is evaluating the revamp plan, which likely would be partly funded by the city.

Every little bit helps, but a larger-scale investment is needed to redevelop parts of the mall and reposition the overall property for long-term success. For a structure spanning more than two city blocks, $20 million wouldn’t go far.

On top of that, there’s the reality that the mall needs to be more “outward facing,” with a larger number of shops and restaurants opening directly to the street.

Fully addressing those layout problems wouldn’t come cheap. And such fixes would do nothing to address the equally daunting challenge of luring shoppers from street level to the upper mall floors.

The stark reality is that the interior mall corridors are in decline—a perception documented by the decline in same-store sales listed in mall reports filed with the city. The figure was just $326 in 2013, the last year Simon disclosed it—less than 40 percent of the $818 that Simon reported this year for its posh Fashion Mall at Keystone.

Foot traffic has been a particular problem since Nordstrom shuttered its massive store on the south end of the mall in 2001. While Simon plugged part of that hole last year by snagging the offices of The Indianapolis Star, that did nothing to boost customer counts at smaller shops nearby.

Simon executive David Contis said in IBJ’s story that the mall may continue to evolve into more of a mixed-use property, potentially with space allocated for housing or convention meetings.

We encourage the city and owners to embrace such opportunities now. It required bold thinking to launch Circle Centre—a bet that helped spark downtown’s revival. We need similarly bold thinking to secure its future for decades to come.

With the $20 million infusion, Circle Centre may continue to muddle along. City leaders and mall owners should aim higher.•

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