Leaders consider Circle Centre Mall’s future as retailers close

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There’s a debate over the future of Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indianapolis. Some leaders are adamant that the mall is not struggling, even after we’ve seen several stores and restaurants leave over the past few months. Others say the mall is at risk.

Simon Property Group, which operates the mall, is hoping to draw more people into the mall by building a new Georgia Street entrance.

“Circle Centre Mall has long been a catalyst for growth in downtown Indianapolis,” said Luke Aeschliman, general manager of Circle Centre Mall. “The addition of a new entrance on the south side of the shopping center will allow our guests to move seamlessly from Circle Centre Mall’s fantastic dining establishments to retail and entertainment destinations inside the mall.”

In recent months, 24-Hour News 8 has learned stores like Gap, Johnston and Murphy, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Greetings and Yankee Candle were closing their Circle Centre locations. Restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and Johnny Rockets moved out too.

“We see places leaving. If they can’t stay open, it’s because there’s not enough people frequenting the shops,” said City County Councillor Jeff Miller. The mall is in Miller’s district.

Downtown Indy’s Real Estate Development Manager, Catherine Esselman, said national retailers closing up shop isn’t a problem exclusive to Circle Centre. Esselman said other malls are affected by national chains closing stores.

“I think the timing of it is probably what’s got people nervous, but I don’t think it is an indication or a reflection on the indicators for a strong healthy, downtown mall. I think we’re going to see those empty stores back-filled with additional national retailers as well as some local retail that we hope has an opportunity to flourish in Circle Centre Mall,” said Esselman.

Three new restaurants — Nada, Punch Bowl Social and Primanti Bros — are slated to move in to the mall. Essleman said the Georgia Street entrance could help attract more shoppers and bring more business.

Miller wonders if that’s enough. Councillor Jeff Miller wants the the city, Simon and shoppers to come to come together to form a plan for the mall’s future. He suggested the possibility of a survey to find out what would keep shoppers downtown.

“We need people downtown, and in the nearby areas to come and they’re not coming. To me, we need to sit down and look at what is our vision for Circle Centre. What do we want it to be? Then plot a road map there. If we don’t, then it’s kind of slowly falling to pieces left and right and these pieces are falling out and this piece is falling out. It feels like we’re not controlling our future,” said Miller.

The mall already houses the Indianapolis Star, Brown Mackie College and a high school. Miller said stakeholders need to decide if Circle Centre should continue to be a mall.

“Is it going to be a mall? If it is, how do we make it successful? Does it need to be something else? I feel like if we’re not having those discussions, on a city-owned asset, then we’re going to be disappointed a few years down the road when it’s all gone,” said Miller.

Esselman said she believes the mall will remain a mall, and future renovations would just be upgrades.

“Think enhanced entrances, refreshed restrooms, think marketing and signage. Things that haven’t been addressed in the 20 years since it opened will get some attention now. In terms of a ‘de-malling’ of the mall, I don’t think you’re going to see that sort of action in the next phase.  It’s a very unique mall,” said Esselman,”I think downtown Indianapolis is unique compared to the rest of the city. The types of amenities, the types of stores that we’ll succeed here, and just the makeup of who shops here — conventioneers, residents, employees, students — you don’t have that demographic anywhere else.”

“Simon is taking this seriously. They’re looking at putting money into this. The city is looking aggressively at what do we do to make this a success? It’s not that people aren’t trying, it’s just that we need to have a little more public discussion about what is that vision and what is that discussion that road map because we want people to rally around it and get excited about it,” said Miller.

Simon Property Group told 24-Hour News 8 the recent closings were national retailers who closed locations all over the country, not just in Circle Centre.