Malls in America are not what they used to be.
Window shopping at big retailer after big retailer used to bring in foot traffic. Food courts once were more than a place to eat: They were somewhere to hang out. Children had a playpen. Adults had hard-pressing kiosk retailers to run to and away from. A dream of a place: traditional malls.
Now, big retailers are going broke, the younger generations have chosen to shop local, and hanging in food courts is nothing compared to hanging out in food halls.
Until recent years, cities had been trying to figure out what to do with their decaying malls. Real estate companies, it appears, have found one of the many probable creative solutions to be mixed-use retail and residential projects.
Mixed-use developments combine residential and non-residential spaces. These entities can range from a single building to multiple, spanning an entire district or neighborhood. Locally, we've had several popping up. Consider CityWay in downtown Indianapolis, the Bottleworks District off Mass Ave, and the Fishers District off Interstate 69.
Another more recent example of a creative combination of residential and non-residential spaces is Glendale Town Center — formerly known as Glendale Mall — on Indy's northeast side. The section formerly occupied by Macy's got a facelift, with several name-brand stores moving into the vast space. That area is now more of a strip mall with a Ross, Old Navy, Five and Below, and Bath and Body Works. The Town Center has also turned several other areas on the property into a community asset with an IU Medical Center, School on Wheels, and four residential lots made up of apartment buildings.
"Solutions require a new shared vision of what’s possible, a bit of catalytic capital, and a dose of creative deal making—civic, commercial, credit, and community leadership," an article in Forbes read last year.
It's not just traditional malls in greater metropolitan areas where real estate companies have been creatively making deals between commercial and community: It's also happening in smaller cities.
That's especially the case for Park Development, a Chicago-based redevelopment firm that bought the site of the old Logansport Mall in February 2020.
"The typical walking mall is kind of going obsolete," Joe DiCosola, a managing partner of Park Development, said during an interview with WRTV in summer 2021. "That's kind of why we're looking in doing redevelopment there, to help bring back the retail, and the interest, back to Logansport."
Logansport, a small city in Cass County, is another place that will soon see a mixed-use retail and residential project taking over its once-beloved mall. A traditional mall that had been hanging on by a thread.
The Logansport Mall had primarily sat vacant for the last decade until Park Development bought the site under its subsidiary, 3900 East Market Street LLC.
The project, which Park Development is renaming "The Junction," is still in the construction process but soon will breathe new life into an area once a hub for all of its residents and nearby rural towns.
A small city and its mall
The Logansport Mall shares a similar narrative with hundreds of malls across the country. It once was a staple in shopping and entertainment for its community. Since it first opened in 1968, it had attracted residents from surrounding northern Indiana towns through the early aughts.
A beautiful blue-tiled fountain surrounded by lush greenery was once the welcoming view as shoppers entered the mall. As you approached the fountain, pennies containing wishes covered the bottom.
Children ran to an independently-owned toy store that once held science kits, interesting gadgets, and gag gifts. The Amazing Space had an assortment of old arcade games from the '70s. And many of the surrounding locals had equal admiration for one of the mall's longest-running tenants — which is still open — Dunham's Sports.
"Just lots of experiences there," Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, told WRTV.
Manning grew up near Logansport, in Miami County. He recalled going to the Logansport Mall often as a child in the summers and getting his first set of dress clothes from its anchor store, JC Penney. He also enjoyed The Amazing Space and remembers the fountain at the entrance.
"My biggest memory of the Logansport Mall as a child is one time, they had a traveling zoo, almost like a petting zoo, out in the parking lot. And one of the experiences was tigers. So I actually was able to hold a baby tiger, and my brother and I got our picture with this baby Tiger in the parking lot of the Logansport Mall," Manning remembered, laughing.
Around the economic downfall of 2008, the Logansport Mall really took a turn, losing several of its major retailers, according to Pharos-Tribune. It continued to stray from its charm to the point the entire site of the mall turned into an eyesore.
"It's been top of mind in the community," Manning said. "It's kind of unique to a community this size to have a mall like that. And so when everything went out, of course, you lose those jobs and those retail opportunities and all of those things."
Representative Manning was a co-sponsor of a bill in the 2021 legislative session that would've paid remote workers to move to Indiana, particularly Logansport. But the bill didn't make it out of the Ways and Means Committee.
"We did see a decline in overall population for the whole city, in the whole county, over the last 10 years. And so, in my perspective, population decline is the most pressing issue facing our rural counties," Manning explained.
He said that although the Census from 10 years ago shows the population numbers have dropped, it's difficult not to have a "subjective feeling" about the growth of Logansport as he looks around. For example, with companies like Waelz Sustainable Products (WSP) and Tyson Fresh Meats in Logansport, which continuously employ hundreds of people, there is room for growth in the city's retail and residential landscape.
Manning said he could vouch for Logansport's schools, health care, cost of living, and other necessities that families inquire about before moving to a new town, but he couldn't account for the question: "What is there to do?"
Now, The Junction is helping him answer that question. Especially through what Manning calls, "regional thinking."
"To bring this place back to life, it makes a huge difference. And it's a regional thing too, of course; it's not just the city, it's the county, and it's all the surrounding counties," Manning said. "To have it reborn and back to life is absolutely critical to the local economy."
Manning believes that the downtowns of Indiana's small cities and towns need rehab to retain residents. He said firms like Park Development are capitalizing on buildings in such areas that have so much potential. He mentioned downtown Peru, where the county brought in a developer to restore a building that five years earlier was on track to be demolished. Now, Manning says, it looks great, a pizza and brewing company took it over, and it's a big draw for more businesses.
"There are lots of buildings and lots of opportunities out there. We just need those people willing to make an investment in the rural communities, and need the communities to support it."
The investment and support are starting to happen in downtown Logansport, Manning says. A recent article in the Pharos-Tribune highlighted several new businesses that have opened or will be opening in the downtown area.
"We need more people, my age and younger, to stick around," Manning, who's 29, said. "That's why projects like redeveloping the mall are so important, why investing in new YMCAs and in lots of other opportunities because we need to attract those young people."
The Junction is slated to open this coming summer.
The open-air concept of the mixed-use property currently plans to have a Planet Fitness, two shadow-anchor stores of Walmart and Home Depot, a Dollar Tree, and a Dunham's Sports.
As the last phase of reconstruction continues, Park Development is looking to secure about 70-80% national restaurant and retail tenants, according to DiCosola. Something he believes the community supports.
"They are very excited," DiCosola said. "We get a lot of people that come by and say, 'Hey, we'd love to have a T.J. Maxx here,' 'We'd love to have Marshalls here,' 'We'd love to have a Ross here.' And we reach out to retailers like that to see if we can partner with them and try to get someone like that to relocate to Logansport."
The Junction will also have a Home2Suites by Hilton, owned and built by Sulai Hospitality. According to DiCosola, the group plans to add a second hotel during the next phase of redevelopment in a few years. He's thinking perhaps a Marriott with upwards of 200 rooms.
In doing several different feasibility studies and retaining leakage reports, DiCosola said hotels were in apparent need.
"Knowing that Purdue University is not far from there, and there's a lot of sporting events, and events that take place just even in Logansport," DiCosola said. "Thousands of people are employed locally and with the growth of all the local businesses ... people come to town to come and work, and they need a place to stay."
Right behind the Walmart on the redevelopment site, The Junction essentially extends into having residential properties. Park Development is constructing 52 single-family homes that range from $160,000 to more than $200,000.
Park Development feels they're filling a void for companies like Tyson Foods and WSP, the Logansport Hospital that keeps expanding, and entrepreneurs looking for a place to begin their startup.
"We own a little office building there that [has] smaller incubator offices ... where utilities and internet are all included for a small rate, and you get a private office, indoors," DiCosola explained.
Park Development also has an apartment building in the city that they bought from the county, where the firm is maintaining as an affordable rental space.
"I think anything that happens with just the mall, in general, is going to be a positive for the community, you know, displacing all the additional spaces there," DiCosola said.
DiCosola and Park Development are not interested in erasing the history of the old mall; if anything, they're looking to memorialize it as best they can.
Logansport Mayor Chris Martin reached out to DiCosola about the blue-tiled fountain to see if another Logansport hotel off-site could get it transferred to them.
"I helped him take out the motor and some of the piping," DiCosola said. "I mean, the whole base, the concrete base, is not going to be there. But they're going to take the pieces of the fountain and reclaim them ... which I think is great."
DiCosola and his team get several requests from the locals, many of which come with remarkable stories.
One woman who reached out to Park Development was seeking an old bench from the Logansport Mall.
"She's like, 'You know, my dad used to work at Sears. He's one of the first employees there,'" DiCosola recounted.
The woman told DiCosola that although her father had retired years ago, he loved the benches in the mall. So she wanted to buy one from DiCosola for her father as a gift.
DiCosola gave a bench to her, and he said, "I kid you not, she must have thanked me 100 times."
"We've donated a bunch of stuff," he said. "To see stuff like that, knowing that people can actually use, or take history of the mall and keep it with them ... was pretty amazing."
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.