A Circle Centre for downtown dwellers and Dungeons & Dragons masters

Having worked downtown for eleven years, I’ve seen every convention group that we’ve hosted. And who are they? They are church groups and future farmers, hardware store owners and race car suppliers, firefighters and D&D masters. They fill the hotels and restaurants and bars downtown. They do some shopping, but very few are shopping at Nordstrom.

Even the typical Indianapolis non-convention tourist isn’t interested in the downtown Nordstrom. They are either shopping with their family at the Zoo or Children’s Museum gift shops or they are eating and drinking before the Colts game, Final Four, or Indy 500.

The tourists who do have the dollars to spend at stores like Nordstrom are not spending them downtown. They rent a car or get a car service and go to Keystone at the Crossing and shop at Nordstrom, Saks, Crate and Barrel, and other high end retailers.

In a nutshell, there are not enough Nordstrom-like stores downtown to attract and keep the big spenders that make up a minor percentage of the downtown convention visitors. I think we should stop focusing on them on focus on everybody else.

A store like Target or IKEA would work. The downtown dwellers who don’t go to the mall now would have a reason to go to the mall on a regular basis. And the church ladies, future farmers, hardware store owners, race car suppliers, firefighters, and D&D masters would waste some time there too. And they would more likely make an impulse purchase of 20 or 40 bucks there than at Nordstrom where impulse purchases are much more expensive.

This is the reality of the downtown that we have been building over the decades. The push for conventions and family tourism and downtown residents have left us with very few to support Nordstrom. But there’s a retail gap that needs to be filled. A gap that so far is only filled at Glendale Mall or suburban malls. It’s time for downtown Indy to grow up and this is a great opportunity to make that happen.

Comments 32

  • A Target would be great. Make it one with the grocery section and we’d be set.

  • Great post! I couldn’t agree more. If Indy wants to grow the downtown area then we need less tourist destination stores and more stores for the everyday user. How great would a downtown Trader Joe’s be? And while I would love an IKEA in Indy, I prefer the road trips as my wife would be spending all of her time and our money there if we had one right around the corner.

  • Target would be nice. IKEA while they would bring a lot of nice product “stuff” would be a logistics nightmare. Their current model prioritizes a loading area that is large parking area in itself and could be difficult to shoehorn into the current footprint, existing automobile congestion not withstanding. A target would be great and the garages there now would support some of the load not to mention improving our transit, a conversation already underway, would assist in many ways.
    When I was in Portland last year, there was a Whole Foods shoehorned into a downtown mixed use building. It was FANTASTIC! It would be neat to see a similar store put in at Nordstrom and take down those blank walls that are there now, to expose a new grocery store front. I believe grocery as a sole use there is a leap, but it sure is a need in the immediate area that would anchor further residential purposes.

  • This is the result of not developing enough housing around downtown for people with higher incomes to support the various institutions. The near downtown neighborhoods are not yet able to compete with Hamilton and Boone counties to attract residents with such spending power.

    Largely this is because those counties have ample, in-demand apartments located near retail, entertainment, and places of work. Downtown does not. These places attract a resident that in many ways would be better served in their life and career by living downtown, but choose a suburban apartment. The NW quadrant of downtown (near Indiana Ave and Vermont) illustrates decades of missed opportunities. Its marred by 6 blocks in total of surface parking lots and several nearby parking garages. It also abuts the CBD, the Indiana Government Center, and Canal. It is a little more than a half-mile from the heart of IUPUI and Mass Ave. Most important, the nearby apartment buildings are filled and have long waiting lists.

    Our downtown is not set up to support Nordstrom and more higher-end retailers may suffer this fate without a change in the area demographics.

  • This topic is somewhat complex, because you have to take a step back and look at the history and the recent trends in shopping to be able to understand the issue at hand. Any mall that has more than two floors usually has a problem filling that third and fourth floor since the upper floors are less frequented by shoppers. Even before the malls, the upper floors of large department stores were reserved for furniture/appliances, and lower floors for more popular items. Anchor stores like Nordstrom typically pay little rent, because they are there to attract shoppers to the mall. Most urban malls under-perform (financially) their suburban counterparts since they lack the convenience of easy navigation, free parking, etc. and cost way more to develop. Although most people think of urban malls like Circle City were the key to rejuvenating downtowns, urban malls often drain pedestrian and commercial life from nearby streets. In addition, we have recently witnessed the trend across the country that both, urban and suburban malls, have begun to fade (or at least stagnate). This is due to overbuilding, changing shopping habits, etc. More and more people are going to big box retailers vs. closed malls. The only bright trend is with “lifestyle centers”, which are basically outdoor shopping malls that have streets and sidewalks, even parks, and parking/garages are usually in discreetly hidden lots. However, those are almost exclusively located in wealthier neighborhoods.
    So, closed malls like Circle City have an up-hill battle ahead. Every city is different, and it seems like Circle City still makes a decent profit. My hope is that whoever fills that space that they cater more to the downtown residents (and in return that would hopefully attract more people to move downtown).

    • As long as the gangs are running rampet in the mall, I will not go there at all.Castelton is no better

      • That’s out of bounds, sir. Fear mongering like this belongs on the Indy Star site. I’ll leave this post up as a warning.

        • Respecting the comments here Kevin.

          I think the social issues that are affecting large retail spaces will have limiting efffects that will, unfortunately, be behaviorly focused. Human’s are creatures of habit affected by the behavior of others.

  • I’ll take Indy’s downtown over Cincy’s downtown any day..

  • Derek, I found the Indy Star article interesting within the first paragraph, ‘…leaves people wondering about the vitality of DOWNTOWN RETAIL…”
    My thought is this: What about suburban retail or just retail nation wide? Last time I heard Borders was closing all of their Indy stores. It’s just a subtle example of how the media plays up ‘DOWNTOWN STIGMA’ for Indy residents.

    Indy won’t move ahead drastically until proper downtown residential is developed.

    • Borders is not closing all their Indy stores last I heard. The one in Castleton is still open, as is Greenwood.

  • The great failing of Circle Centre was that once it was there, that was it. It was designated a magnet to attract other things, but they never bothered to develop it further. It is (except for a convoluted route to the convention center and a parking garage) disconnected from everything else except a couple of hotels, which are hardly a destination for the general public.

  • A Super Target would serve downtown residents very well. Think ahead, with gas prices climbing and people hoping for an option to give up their expensive commutes and lives in the suburbs to move downtown, a Super Target would help make a decision to move downtown much easier.

    I think the old Eastgate Consumer Mall area would be an ideal location for an IKEA store.

  • You will never get a Super Target downtown, as Target’s business model is getting away from the full grocery side of it. In all likelihood, it would be what Target calls a “Fresh” store, which has essentials as far grocery. Wide selection of dry and frozen goods, limited selection of fresh fruit, meats, breads. This type of situation is perfect for Target. After three failed attempts downtown (Coke plant on Mass Ave, Market Square Arena, and Lucas Oil area), they would never have a more perfect opportunity to move in downtown.

  • That is interesting about the 3 other sites. I have never heard about that.

  • Your three previous failed attempts never actually had Target on board. Urban stores are difficult for them for a lot of reasons and Indy does not have the downtown density to justify the expense or business risk. Let’s get beyond Target – and don’t even get me started on the nightmare that Ikea would be anywhere near the center of Indy – and discuss what could really happen there.

    Anyone for breaking it up a little and having ground floor restaurants along the Nordstroms frontage? How about carving out a piece of it for an indoor/outdoor farmer’s market & art gallery space? What about reformatting the space into a performing arts center? What about an expansion of Ball State’s Indy campus or another university? What if the upper floor was converted into condo space?

    The space is absolutely remarkable in a lot of ways and we need to realize that and take full advantage of the opportunity – there are other things that rejuvenate and engage besides retail.

  • My source from Simon is telling me that their first choice is to get another department store. They are in talks with Bloomingdales (one of the original proposed tenants for Circle Centre) and Dillards. What will most likely happen is that both stores tend to have a smaller foot print than the current Nordstrom. The first floor would be reconfigured for ground level retail (most likely restaurants and Urban Outfitters has an interest in the mall as well). The 2nd and 3rd floors would house the new, smaller department store, specializing in carrying business and travel attire with large cosmetic counters ect.

    • Sounds like a win on all fronts – create more street level interaction – Urban Outfitters would be an awesome win for the area – and fill the rest of the space with a paying tenant that can pick up the void that Nordstroms is leaving for downtown workers wiith more money and time than I have… I’m in.

  • I like the idea of converting upper floors to condos…not sure if there is any demand for that, but I am all for mixed use whenever possible.

    • Diversifying use of this massive space is probably warranted. I’m not sure how converting some of the space to residential or office would impact the rest of the Mall. I know the standard rule has been to maintain a large anchor department store to support the smaller stores. However that does not mean it is the only way to make the Mall successful, and a more radical approach is appropriate.

      Reasonable changes: 1) Open the ground floor to the street for some smaller retailers, 2) Secure a large mid-priced retailer (Target seems to be a popular choice…), 3) Diversify uses with smaller retailers, professional offices, medical offices, and other.

      This may let the mall fit better into the downtown landscape. Still, increased population in or around the CBD is the only sure game changer.

  • The reality of the situation is that if another high-end anchor store does not backfill the space, the property will continue to lose other small shop retailers that set strict co-tenancy requirements and depend on high-end anchor retailers to drive traffic to their stores. I don’t think people really get how much of a game changer this is for downtown retail.

    Who is the Leasing Exec at Simon that ignored sales figures and just assumed Nordstrom would renew? I mean, i am not a Leasing Exec, but i know that opening a store on the northside will have a significant impact on a downtown store. The incompetency and lack of attention to the matter is astounding. Doesn’t bode well for Simon’s supposed commitment to downtown.

    On a more positive note – i do hope Simon redeems themselves. I just don’t see how you do it without a high-end anchor retailer. I really like the idea of putting a high-end retailer on the 2nd and 3rd levels (if nothing else, just to keep more quality small shops from vacating) and opening up the exterior with street-level retailers. Whole Foods, REI, Urban Outfitters are all quality retailers that “get it” when it comes to urban stores.

  • Indyurben, your idea is exactly on the money. Enclosed malls, as a concept, are outdated, with only one being built since 2006. They’re losing business, across the nation, to strip malls, open air malls, and a variety of stores that just choose to be built on their own property, as well as online retailers.

    That doesn’t mean the space that is Circle Center is useless. There’s tons of uses for what is arguably the most valuable commercial property in the city, and possibly the entire state. It just, right now, isn’t being used wisely.

  • I think Jason is on the money with this post. Going after religious conventions and such filled the convention center and restaraunts but not much else. For the comments that are calling for Urban Outfitters you will end up with the same result. Also there is a growing groundswell boycott of UO for its conservitive leanings. Even though Miley Cyrus detracts from the intent of the boycott, I think it still has legs.

  • It will be very interesting to see how all of America’s indoor malls change with the times. Great post for thoughts, especially on the Nordstrom affect on C.C.M. and downtown business. The only logical thing (unfortunately from a business perspective) would suggest going with an ‘Extreme Vegas’ route. Definitely not what I want to see, but for the majority? What does it take to suck people into a mall in a particular area?

  • Nordstrom’s is an anchor store for CC mall. Without it, the mall would fail. Nordstorm’s can afford to stay downtown because their lease with Simon is next to nothing.

    When’s the last time you saw a Target in a mall?

  • Kokomo has one too I think.

    • Curt,

      Spending most of my adolescent life in Kokomo. I can confirm to the Target being in Markland Mall in Kokomo. I always wanted to know why for WRSP they didn’t add an aquarium along with zoo. I understand there is a dolphin show and other sea creatures but that could/would have been another attraction to the west side of downtown. Quite frankly if you’re not a sports nor have young children fan in the Indy Metro area, downtown could be a tough sell for families in Hamilton County to “drive into the city” in downtown and spend money in the same stores that they already have out in Clay Terrace or Hamilton Center.
      I only bring that up because of recent trip to Chicago where I recalled going to a packed indoor mall very similar to Circle Centre that was surrounded by all the premiere stores on Mag Mile. Granted there are a higher percentage of people living inside the Loop of Chi, than people living inside the the square mile district of DT Indy (love the neighborhood map btw). But if you compare the rail transit of Chicago vs. the cheap parking of Indy, I’d assume for the scale of city and downtown of each city, I’d assume that’s rather even. I think that the fact that besides sporting events, there’s not that much else for a cultured resident to do in DT Indy.

      Although there are 3 museums pretty much next to each other on the Canal; one of those is pretty much an extension of the NCAA office, while another is pretty much a big IMAX theatre that shows non box office films. So museum entertainment is pretty much a negative. What other sites can residents/tourists visit in DT Indy? Well pretty much nothing else. Indy doesn’t have an inner city park or a natural tourist attraction to get people to come down and enjoy a fun time in the summer. What do we have instead? Obscure monuments dedicated to local soldiers –which is nice to pay homage to them but takes up a lot of prime downtown space for not being a true attraction– and a very very shallow river. Add in the obligatory businesses, restaurants, hotels, a very large commuter college (which is transition to being a regular college), Medical District, a space age looking public library, the State Capitol building/Gov’t center, 3 sports facilities, and a large convention center. There is still not a huge reason for people to come downtown and spend money @ CC if they’re not into sports. That’s a problem.

      Now I don’t want to disparage DT Indy at all. It has been well chronicled how bad DT was in the 70’s and 80’s. And there are shows and concerts that do bring life to DT Indy still in venues such as IRT, Indy Symphony Orchestra, Murat, and White River so culture is there. Also I’m interested to see how the Georgia Street Project looks once completed (I’m cringing that it will be like 4th Street Live! in Louisville). And I know had it not been for the successes of the Pacers and the Colts and NCAA Final Four hostings, Indy might be off worse. But lets not settle for having just one cap and being the “Amateur sports capital of the world” and just only light up for Big Ten Tournaments or Final Fours or Super Bowls. There has to be something else to increase activity and more business in DT Indy from April to September besides the hope of a FF and the Pacers being relevant in the Playoffs, let alone the colts being something post Peyton.

      Anyway, sorry for the essay of a post. Long time reader first time commenter. Just had a lot of thoughts about the metro area where I grew up most of my life. Keep up the good work.

      H. Jones – an avid sports fan… but wants more for Indy as well.

      P.S. It would really be nice to get a Riverwalk like thing going with stores and restaurants throughout the canal instead of just only apartments and hotels. Also I wish we could get rid of that ugly factory between the Vic and the Luke

  • Target is definitely a player in the new Mall strategy. Westfield (competitor with Simon) has worked with Target on multiple projects to anchor and help redevelop their enclosed centers. Keep in mind, Target alone will not help Circle Center retain its existing tenants. As mentioned previously, the quality small shop retailers typically have strick co-tenancy requirements and rely on a high-end anchor retailer to drive traffic to their stores. Without a high-end anchor store, Circle Center will continue to see quality small shops vacate.

  • I imagine all of these stores can reconfigure their operating contracts. Especially considering the abrupt nature of Nordstrom’s closing. Besides, how good of a business plan can be held when the “high end anchor” store has experienced declining sales that lead to it’s closing? Why would any business hitch it’s operating plan to that? Just some devil’s advocate speaking here…

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