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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