Circle Centre after Carson’s: a new life or euthanasia?

Ever pondered what might go into a spot when a downtown department store closes?  Well, I got the chance to do exactly that, and it has just appeared in the latest issue of Indianapolis Monthly.IMG_20130428_164104_158 Okay, the photo above is a false alarm: it’s a pic of the Nordstrom that closed in the Circle Centre Mall way back in 2011.  No, I’m not brainstorming what to do with that site.  (I already did that a few years ago, both here and more elaborately at Urban Indy.)  By and large, tenants have re-occupied the space (though none are remotely related to a department store).

We’re dealing now with the departure of the other anchor tenant: the Carson’s that largely helped keep the Circle Centre Mall alive these last few years.  It’s closing too, and I don’t have a good pic of it–which is a shame, because it’s a beautiful building–so here’s a pic of the mall’s interior during somewhat better times:Circle Centre in better timesIronically, when I first received the assignment to write the article, Carson’s had not announced its closure; it was broadly known, however, that the parent company, the Bon-Ton Stores, Inc., was in awful financial shape.  And then, just a few weeks ago, the City of Indianapolis received the unwelcome (but hardly unsurprising) news that Carson’s would close, leaving Circle Centre without a department store, essentially relegating it to “dead mall” status.

Too bad.  It was a smartly designed mall, largely tucked behind historic building façades to blend in with the existing streetscape.  Take this example:IMG_20130428_164539_844Pretty much all of the façades visible in the above photo are the mall itself.  But, with Carson’s vacating in the next few weeks, what’s left to lure people in?  The partnership that manages the mall has announced a multi-million dollar renovation plan to upgrade the interior appearance, but I’m not optimistic.  Malls are dying nationally.  Indianapolis is one of the few Midwestern cities left (outside Chicago) to even claim a partially viable downtown mall, and the widespread implosion of retail holds little hope that the interior space will ever attract any top-name tenants…let alone a new department store.

What’s left?  Well, that’s the goal of my article: to think up an entirely new use of the space.  And while I’m not fond of my recommendation at a broader philosophical level, I do feel it may be the only pragmatic solution to salvaging what, through much of the 90s and early 2000s, was a centerpiece to the Wholesale District of Downtown.  Fortunately, the Mile Square of Indianapolis has much more to offer these days than the Circle Centre Mall: a downtown Whole Foods is slated to open within a few weeks, at the base of the city’s largest high-rise apartment building.  But it would be almost as criminal to let the space go vacant as it would to demolish it without first thinking of a creative adaptive reuse.  Take a look at what I have in mind, and then throw your comments my way.  We’ll come up with something!

 

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

29 thoughts on “Circle Centre after Carson’s: a new life or euthanasia?

    1. AmericanDirt

      As long as the City doesn’t bankroll it, I’d favor such a re-use. (But we all know the City WOULD bankroll it.)

      Reply
  1. Alex Pline

    I’ve too been pondering the reuse issue given the state of retail these days, not specifically for Indianapolis or my location in Annapolis, but in general. About the only retail that I can see flourishing is the restaurant business, but how long can that last and at what scale? I think the future is not bright on this because of strict use zoning regulations. Sure on a case by case basis we make exceptions for some interesting and novel ideas, but they tend to favor “bigness”. I think from a planning and cultural stand point we have to be more flexible on a very granular level because we really don’t know what is next and have to allow new trends to take hold organically. I think it’s either hubris on the part of local governments to think they know or resistance to change by residents, both that result in “bigness” which is often a gamble and ultimately counter to what people were trying to prevent with the resistance in the first place. “Bigness” is not resilient, but it’s orderly.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Thanks for the comments, Alex. I, too, question the staying power of the restaurant scene, but right now it seems to be the de facto replacement of shopping as a leisure, social activity.

      The “bigness” issue you’re talking about may be as much zoning constraints as it is developer pro formas, the need for a strong IRR, and economies of scale. I plan to blog about this in the future, in terms of how hard it is to fill a large urban parcel with a bunch of little development, largely because it forces the duplication of soft costs into a single space–something that wouldn’t happen if a single developer build big. I’ve seen examples of this play out in Washington DC. Stay tuned…

      Reply
  2. Astara

    This is sad but not unexpected news about Carson’s. I believe your article makes a compelling argument that the city ought to heed. When I was a multi-unit manager, one of my locations was in Circle Centre. In addition, I worked there shortly after the mall opened. The decline has been painful to watch, as the center was once the perfect example of its genre. That said, Simon cannot ignore the impossibility of a retail revival in that location much longer. Expanding the convention center seems the most fruitful idea.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Thanks Astara—always appreciate your insight! I’m not a huge fan of the convention center expansion as a solution, but it seems more realistic. And it allows us to salvage what is clearly one of the best designed downtown malls in the country. I think the smart design is what in part kept CCM going, when most other downtown malls in mid-sizes cities failed.

      Reply
  3. Jonathan Schalliol

    Indoor theme park with rollercoasters, or world’s best multi-level electric go kart track. Just sayin’

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Could be a possibility! I have a vague memory of a time when we were supposed to get an amusement park over by the relocated zoo at White River State Park–do you remember those days? And, lest we forget, didn’t Union Station have go karts for awhile? (Maybe it still does…?)

      Reply
  4. Sarah Pierson Myers

    I actually like this suggestion a lot. I have thought that Indianapolis should capitalize on the conferences/convention/trade show market. I thought we created a great space downtown and that IDI (then) did a good job to market Indianapolis and bring in conferences and conventions. Something needs to be done with that space and I think it’s a great space. It would be a shame to let it go empty or trying to keep attracting retail that won’t stay.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      I agree, Sarah, that attracting retail is not the way to go. Which makes it frustrating to see how, at least right now, they think that “sprucing up the interior” with wifi, a new paint job, and comfier seating will somehow bring back Swarovski. Let’s face it, even if face lifts helped, the retail industry right now is in what seems like a permanent state of retraction.

      Reply
  5. Chris B

    I’d say make the Carson’s space (which was once the LS Ayres flagship department store) into residential. It’s already been done downtown with the former Block’s flagship department store. Or possibly a mid-range convention hotel…and convert other mall space to meeting and ballroom space.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      I like both ideas, and it’s a magnificent building that can’t stay vacant for long. Do you know if there’s the right fenestration for good residential repurposing? I’m sure they could make it work, considering they did with the Block’s building. I just thought they had considered it at one point, saw the size of the floorplate, then recognized the challenge of building residential or hotel units so far from natural light.

      Then again, if a building is cool enough, I’ve seen developers construct units where the only natural light source comes from a skylight in an interior courtyard.

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        Exactly. That’s how the Crowne Plaza at Union Station was done.

        Considering the age and design/type of construction of the Ayres building, cutting out an atrium core offset toward the SW corner (and the mall interior), and reopening the street-facing windows on the north and east, would not seem to be problematic.

        Reply
  6. John Tankersley

    With it being centrally located might be a good spot for housing with stores and living mediates build around it. Could open it up to create its own mini environment to work live and play all under one roof.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Apparently it was built to support 10 additional floors on top of it, so you could be on to something. The whole mixed-use approach seems like something that would have the most staying power.

      Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Don’t give them any new ideas….. Seriously, I’m sure it’s been floated around, and it’s not really a bad one. The only drawback: the Carson’s building has lots of windows, and casinos don’t normally want guests to know the time of day when they’re feeding the slot machines. The old Nordstrom building would have been a perfect casino.

      Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Yeah, that was many many moons ago, wasn’t it? Interestingly, the City Market began to revive about the same time the mall stated to decline.

      Reply
  7. Chris

    Get in contact and offer the former Carson’s / Ayres space to 21C Hotels. Even though their City Hall Proposal never went through and got cancelled, they still have mentioned they would like to have a presence in Indy. 21C is great at re-adapting older buildings. While I loved the idea of the former City Hall being attached 21C, I think it was too aggressive of a proposal with building the new midrise next door and thus why they couldn’t get financing secured in time. The 21C / Carson building would be connected via the mall and above ground walkway system to the Convention Center. 21C would have a major presence on the corner of US40 (Washington) and Meridian. It’s a great boutique hotel chain.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      I used to be more sanguine about 21C than I am these days, largely because I’m increasingly suspicious that their business model involves willful (and very clever) self-promotion that emphasizes their capacity to transform a space through historic preservation, enough that they seduce civic leaders into generous subsidies that become a fundamental to their financing.

      While it’s a huge disappointment that the Old City Hall proposal was a bust, I worry that the massive expansion of urban hotels nationwide could eventually leave 21C strained. I suppose if they go out of business, though, another brand could quickly pick up where they left off…and I concede that I have no experience staying at a 21C.

      They fact that you advocate for them gives me comfort though. Maybe they’ll find an opening in Indy after all.

      Reply
  8. Chris B

    Here’s the tongue-in-cheek imaginary Suburban Hoosier response:

    Gun store and shooting range on one floor. Paintball on one floor. Giant Hooters restaurant (reduntant phrase, I know) on the ground floor.

    (ducking)

    😉

    Reply
    1. Eric M (American Dirt)

      Sounds like a terrific idea, Chris. Only problem: we already have a Hooters a few blocks away. It’s possible DT can support two Hooters (pun fully intended, because who wants just one, especially since DT already has two Yolks). And if the older one closes, it can simply get re-purposed as a Twin Peaks, or the first location of Heart Attack Grill west of the Mississippi.

      Reply
  9. Toledo

    The decline of CCM, which was once state of the art, should be setting off alarm bells in Indianapolis regarding the overbuilding of apartments in the Mile Square, but it’s mostly not. Poster after poster, here and elsewhere, assume that it’s as easy as wooing Target. LOL. That’s what they said after Nordstrom’s too. The big picture is this: As places with more reasonable levels of violent crime and viable school districts (Carmel, Brownsburg, Plainfield) continue to urbanize and increase density, there is less and less reason to live in the Mile Square. This is true across racial, generational, socioeconomic and just about any other lines you can apply. The real winners will be those places in the burbs that figure out mixed use best. The real loser will be Indianapolis, mostly because of hubris and an unwillingness to be honest with itself about generational failings and a dogged insistence on repeating the mistakes of the past.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Good points, but I would never claim that wooing Target is easy. Clearly it isn’t: I think it was one of the first alternatives after Nordstrom announced its closure. And it didn’t get anywhere.

      You may be correct that, if Carmel and Plainfield densify and continue to boast great school districts, they will effectively compete with old, urban Indianapolis in every way. This, of course, presumes that people will value great school districts over urban “authenticity”–a city center that grew organically with century-old architecture. But the verdict isn’t out yet if today’s young professionals 1) will ever choose to have children in large numbers (which yields its own huge social shortcomings) or 2) will decide that walkable urbanism in Carmel is a good enough substitute. Where I currently live, in Washington DC, the vast majority of construction cranes are in and around the city center. While there’s plenty of growth in suburban MD and VA, the place to be right now remains the District itself…despite the fact that most of the public schools are failing, or–more accurately–are graduating people who shouldn’t be eligible for a diploma, in order to boost their numbers.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. You are not required to sign in. Anonymous posting is just fine.