Wednesday, July 25th, 2007
Continuing my series comparing the twin cities of Columbus and Indianapolis, it is worth noting that both cities have downtown malls. Columbus has the City Center mall, Indianapolis the Circle Centre mall. The Columbus mall opened first to great fanfare, and was home to destination stores like Marshall Fields. Circle Centre likewise opened to great hoopla, featuring the region’s only Nordstrom.
Since opening, the two malls have diverged significantly. Circle Centre in Indianapolis never lived up to its hype. It was originally intended to be a major regional destination with unique, upscale stores. There was a prime block of land adjacent to the mall with frontage on Monument Circle that was originally intended to host a third anchor. Over time, the profile of the mall changed. Simon company, which owned it, acquired management rights to all over area malls, including the upscale Fashion Mall on the north side. Rather than going to bat for a downtown mall, Simon had the Fashion Mall as its outlet for regional destination stores. And let’s face it, that’s where most of them wanted to go. The long rumored downtown Saks never materialized, but the minute space opened in the Fashion Mall, Saks snapped it up. No other third anchor ever materialized and the circle block, once touted as the best of the bunch, was eventually filled with an office building and hotel. The fourth floor, which had been originally conceived as an entertainment venue with bars and a movie theater, struggled from the get-go and is now all but vacant. While some destination stores remained and sales were solid if unspectacular, the mall was no longer a regional focal point, but primarily appealed to visitors. On the plus side, the mall became one of the premier dining districts in the city, pulling in throngs of visitors and locals pretty much every night of the week. While few other retail outlets sprouted outside the mall, its success as a dining destination created a major entertainment district throughout the south of downtown. So while Cirlce Center may not have lived up to the original vision, it certainly held its own and has become the real center and anchor of the downtown.
I’m far less familiar with City Center in Columbus, but its trajectory was far different. The mall has essentially tanked and become a white elephant downtown. See this article in today’s Columbus Dispatch for a sample. I can’t explain why this happened exactly. Among other things, City Center is on the opposite side of downtown from the convention center. Contrast that with the Indianapolis situation, where the mall is connected via skywalk to the convention center and many area hotels, as well as being very convenient to the RCA Dome and Conseco Fieldhouse arena. This probably hurt City Center. What’s more, Marshall Fields was never the anchor that Nordstrom was for Indy. And the mall never became the focal point of a downtown dining and entertainment district. Whether City Center can be saved as an actual mall is seriously in doubt. Interestingly, Simon owns this one as well, though I’m not certain if they inherited it via one of their many acquisitions.
So while Circle Centre may have its challenges, and in fact may yet suffer the same fate as City Center if it isn’t carefully tended, so far the residents of Indy can feel pretty good about how they have fared. In fact, few if any regional peer cities have a downtown mall as successful as Circle Centre.