Circle Center Mall and Lafayette Square Mall getting new life

INDIANAPOLIS — Like retail relics from another century, the once-vibrant Circle Center and Lafayette Square Mall are both more than half-empty and struggling for relevance as shoppers have learned its easier to buy from the comfort of the couch or on a laptop than driving to the store.

The 17 owners and investors in Circle Center have engaged five architectural firms to come up with plans by the end of the year on how to reimagine the downtown shopping, dining, and entertainment center that opened to great fanfare and flocking crowds in 1995.

“I think that maybe in some ways they’re out of ideas with Circle Center and it needs some fresh eyeballs,” said IU Kelley Business School Senior Lecturer John Talbott after it was learned that one of the mall’s original investors and its longtime manager, Simon Properties, sold its stake in the site in late December, “and the new world that we’re living with is not really shopping centers but a rebirth of experience centers.”

Talbott said reimagined urban mall spaces will include all the amenities to create new neighborhoods in downtown communities.

“The goal of all these places is to attract individuals to a certain area,” said Talbott. “We are gonna be mixed-use. We’re gonna have offices. We’re gonna have health. We’re gonna have places for people to live. We’re gonna have not just a food court where people can get some fuel while they’re shopping but a place where they come because, ‘I love that restaurant. I want to come there.”’”

“Who buys these things? What if we had people who confronted here? What if we had people who lived in this area. Then you’ve kinda got built-in customers.”

Talbott said Simon Properties, as a traditional mall owner and operator, was ill-suited to adapt to the changing downtown Indianapolis retail environment.

“They were looking for people who had more experience in office, in hotel management, things like that.”

7.5 miles from the front door of Circle Center is Lafayette Square Mall which has stood near the commercial intersection of Lafayette Road and West 38th Street since 1968.

It, too, has fallen on hard times, known more for empty stores and gunfire.

Developer Fabio de la Cruz, CEO & Founder of Sojos Capital LLC has a $200 million plan to redevelop the mall and its adjoining properties as well as other commercial sites along the Lafayette Road corridor.

“I see the mall more as a neighborhood that is a mall where we would have a lot of housing, we will have a hotel, we will have corporate offices, we would have a lot of traffic in the neighborhood itself and we see the neighborhood as the mall.”

De la Cruz expects to break ground this year on an apartment complex and boutique hotel on the 113-acre site as well as remodel Lafayette Square to create a self-sustaining community.

“The base will be our neighborhood, our second base will be the millennials who like to have exciting things and the third base will be the people who try to do something interesting,” he said. “Our goal is still to open the mall and the apartment complex and the hotel at the end of this year, beginning of next.”

Monday night the City-County Council will introduce a proposal to spend $750,000 on infrastructure improvements to the community around Lafayette Square.

While Sojos Capital recently filed an incentive application with the City for tax-increment financing to support construction bonds for the redevelopment, de la Cruz said he can afford to build the project on his own.

“We don’t have financing. It’s all cash,” he said, indicating that tax-increment funding would accelerate the project’s completion. “That’s what we will have from them more than anything. To accomplish our vision faster in order to create a bigger momentum faster.”

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