Editorial: Circle Centre’s office-space plan doesn’t address core challenges

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Circle Centre mall’s recent announcement that it had hired CBRE to market the top two floors of the former Carson’s department store as office space was encouraging on one level. More than a year after the three-story department store closed, officials at least are taking concrete steps to refill the space.

But the move is disconcerting in another: It suggests that city officials and the mall’s owners are pursuing a plan for the downtown mall that minimizes investment, instead of pursuing a grander, more costly vision that repositions the property to thrive for decades to come.

The sad reality is that the mall’s interior corridors are dying, which is why we’re seeing mom-and-pop tenants replace national chains. It’s also why same-store sales for the mall were a horrific $338.50 in 2018, less than half that of Simon Property Group’s U.S. portfolio of 206 retail properties.

Office tenants might be better than vacant space, but they don’t provide the foot traffic a healthy mall needs. For evidence, just look at the south end of the mall, which became something of a ghost town after Nordstrom closed in 2011. The Indianapolis Star’s decision to move its offices into part of the Nordstrom space in 2013 did nothing to revive it.

It might be that retail is not a viable long-term option for those interior corridors. Retail has changed drastically in the 24 years since the mall opened. Perhaps those corridors need to be repurposed into apartments, a hotel, convention space or other uses.

But if that is the case, it’s time for a big-picture, public discussion about re-envisioning the 791,000-square-foot property—rather than continuing the status quo of having mall officials do the best they can to plug vacancies in the property as it’s currently configured.

The problem with that piecemeal approach is that it restricts options for the future. The new leases limit the mall’s redevelopment options, even as they accelerate the decline of the small shops in the mall’s interior.

To those who rarely go inside the mall, all might look fine from the street. That’s because the mall has filled much of what had been Nordstrom’s first-floor space with restaurants and other entertainment venues.

But many of those new tenants have only street entrances. You can’t even get to them from inside the mall, a configuration that further pressures those interior small shops.

We hope the mall’s owners—a collection of 20 local companies—are starting to grasp the need to think big.

But we fear they aren’t—in part because the piecemeal approach is propping up mall profits, even as vacancies and second-tier tenants leave a less-than-positive impression on the conventioneers who traverse the mall’s corridors.

In this case, profits don’t mean success. It took herculean government and civic leadership to get the mall built in the first place. It’s time for a similar effort to reposition it into something we can all be proud of again.•


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6 thoughts on “Editorial: Circle Centre’s office-space plan doesn’t address core challenges

  1. Well said – absolutely correct. We need the downtown mall to be a destination for the hundreds of thousands of conventioneers and other visitors the city draws each year, as well as a shopping option for the increasing number of those who live and/or work downtown. If that means continuing to subsidize as companies and city did in the beginning to secure anchors – so be it! We never hesitate to pay mega $millions each year to subsidize professional sports teams that could well afford to pay their own way.

  2. Very much agree. I recently returned from traveling to Atlanta for a long weekend. I was amazingly impressed by the Ponce City Market and how much the city has embraced it a destination spot to shop, eat, and socialize. The space is bookended by two major anchors in Williams & Sonoma and West Elm, but the rest of the space is made up of a large food hall, small artisanal makers and boutique clothing brands as well as art installations. It even has a roof top space overlooking the neighborhood. By curating the right kind of small business, it really created a nice community within the space. The owners of the mall do need to take a long, hard look at the Circle Centre space and how it impacts the vision of the city around it as well as the amazing convention traffic we see from the successful team at Visit Indy.

  3. Along with the above commenters, we need to use this prime real estate as a focal point for visitors (and city workers) as a place you’d want to visit… I think this would be a perfect place to showcase the Indy 500 as an interactive exhibit/museum (as an extension to what is currently available at Speedway).

    I like the above suggestion of an art space and food hall (although that might take away from the City market).

  4. For years, Circle Centre was a centerpiece for the city. If huge efforts are not made it will be the abyss of the city. It is important to recognize the demographic change occurring downtown with the influx of residential developments. People living downtown want the same convenience (or more) that can be experienced in the suburbs. They need value shopping venues, hardware stores, groceries, etc., that just aren’t that readily available. Buckhead Station in Atlanta has an excellent mix of tenants to replace the retail giants that were thought to be required anchors. Low cost retailers like T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, DSW, Old Navy, are doing well at Buckhead Station. A tenant mix like that, combined with specialty restaurants, hardware, sporting goods, and grocery stores thrown in would satisfy the needs of a lot of downtown residents and bring new life to the current morgue environment.

  5. I’ve always wished that we had a time square type vibe to parody the Monument Circle. I know it’s a pipe dream, but I think it would be amazing to have a giant crystal IndyCar that would drop on the mall’s roof, above the Movie Theater that’s across from the PNC Center loading docks. Making the area and the inside feel more lively with community activities\festivals would encourage people to go in and use the mall. There’s usually festivals and activities going on in the winter, so they could take advantage of the fact that people don’t want to be outside freezing in December-March and maybe make new traditions.

    Our mall has always been a tourist mall so it really wouldn’t have made sense for a store that sells candles for $30 when you can’t burn them in a hotel room or endless selections of shirts when a person might just need 1 or 2. But if your luggage breaks you only have TJ Maxx to buy something else. A lot of people visiting our mall have budgets or are kids sent here with only a certain amount of money to spend the entire time they’re here, so they’re most likely only going to spend it on experiences and things their friends spend money on. They also don’t have a lot of time here, so they won’t spend money or time on things that take too long and they aren’t going to buy what they can buy back home here at our mall. TJ Maxx is always busy, so I feel like we are mainly missing the home stores, furniture stores, electronic stores, big hardware for downtowners and then unique things that people from out of town can’t get elsewhere.

    I saw in a lot of studies published here on the IBJ in the past that mentioned home furnishings, décor and furniture of all sizes as being the biggest retail demand right now. People who rent or buy downtown or within the vicinity have to travel to the suburbs or just go without. I think downtown would feel more like a completion solution for those who live downtown if we had another hardware store and a HomeGoods Store and possibly TJX’s new concept HomeSense. They’re already doing really well at Claypool court, so I think if the rent was right it’d make sense for them. Since the mall is already putting in street level access for tenants, I feel like they could easily support a 1 or 2 story furniture store that uses one of the alleys or side streets for car/truck loading. In the early 1900s Indy had all kinds of furniture makers and furniture stores downtown.

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