It is more than a little ironic that more than 40 years after Sears & Roebuck, J.C. Penney, Woolworth’s and Bickel’s left downtown Logansport for the winter-proof Logansport Mall, Sears has announced in the middle of one of the coldest winters in years that it’s closing its mall store.
When the mall opened, Sears and J.C. Penney were the veritable bookends of the mall, and continue to be. In the years that followed, the mall changed owners, the corporate icon that was Sears grew out of its holdings from Allstate Insurance to the Discover Card. Even the Sears Tower, the tallest building in Chicago, gave up its name as Sears downshifted in an increasingly competitive retail world occupied by the expansion of Target, Kohl’s, Meijer and that upstart Arkansas discount heaven known as Walmart.
Generations have come and gone since Sears moved from the present site of The Gray Mill at Fifth and Broadway to the east end. At the time, the moves sent shockwaves to downtown, leaving it as the haunt of the century-old Golden Rule department store, assorted women’s clothing and shoe stores and the remnants of what had been the retail center of Logansport for most of the 20th century.
But that was yesterday.
The main question now is what happens to the mall and the people who depend on the tax revenue the mall generates for local government and schools.
The real tragedy of this situation is that as much as manufacturing has benefited from tax abatement and the County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) revenue to add employees, expand facilities and purchase equipment, economic development has done little to benefit retailers in this community over a number of years. The former Big R Store on East Market was an exception, but it eventually left.
There are probably people who may have thought the mall didn’t need any help because it had private ownership committed to running many larger properties in other states, or that the mall couldn’t fail because it had established a new retail hub at the east end of Logansport. But with Sears gone from the mall and few retailers left, the questions of what can be done to find new tenants or redevelop the property entirely have to be answered.
For several reasons, this development is hitting Logansport at an inopportune time. In general, shopping malls, particularly in small cities, are being edged out by freestanding shopping centers. Look around Logansport’s east end and you’ll find three of them near the mall. One, Eastgate Plaza, was around before the mall and is in the process of virtually being filled up. But the community already has a vacant storefront in Cass Plaza, the largest shopping center of the three. Since Rural King departed for the former Walmart location on East Market, there’s been a huge vacant space that has previously housed not only Rural King, but 3-D and Kmart.
With a new Walmart store behind the mall property, the question becomes “What tenant would complement it and add value to the mall?” There are various strong retail names out there, but some of the names already mentioned may not be interested because the location is no longer on a major highway and Logansport may be the smallest city in Indiana to have a mall. Those two facts combined mean retail traffic could be light.
Other questions that have to be asked are what city and county officials are willing to do to commit to the property in CEDIT money, tax abatement and potentially Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenue, or even revenue from the Eastgate Property Fund or Rainy Day Fund. Reread that last sentence and then say to yourself, yes, it would be ironic that city money from a shopping venue older than the mall might help redevelop it.
Two other questions to consider are whether Logansport Utility Service Board and city council members would consider modifying the electric rate schedule to provide at least some temporary relief and/or incentive to mall ownership to invest in the property, and if the current zoning designation for the mall is adequate for any potential redevelopment of the property.
For years, Sears advertised its storied brand with a jingle at the end of commercials which cheerfully messaged “There’s more to your life at Sears.” With the Sears name vanishing from Logansport, those who want what’s best for Logansport have to be wondering if there will be more life at the mall after one of its bookends is no longer on the bookshelf.
Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.