Located in West Des Moines, Iowa, Jordan Creek Town Center is the newest super-regional mall in Iowa and, as of early 2012, one of the most recently constructed enclosed malls in the United States. Opened in 2004, its construction was the culmination of over ten years of planning, resulting in not only a mall but an entire retail resort encompassing destinational shopping, dining, entertainment, recreation, and lodging, becoming one of the biggest shopping destinations in the midwest.
It all began in the mid-1990s. The land that became the malls was fertile farm land, and there was little to no development west of I-35. In 1995, West Des Moines businessman Art Wittern proposed a mixed-use development called the “Village at Oakbrook”, located at 74th Avenue (now Jordan Creek Parkway) and E.P. True Parkway. Around the same time, General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based mall developer, was busy at work building a super-regional mall 100 miles east of Des Moines in Iowa City. That center, Coral Ridge Mall, quickly became eastern Iowa’s best shopping destination, and General Growth saw an opportunity for an even bigger undertaking in the state’s largest city, Des Moines.
In 1999, General Growth took the Wittern site, and continued work on the original plans to build retail there. Stemming from the success of its Coral Ridge project, General Growth sought to make a bigger and better Coral Ridge, or as Walt Disney would say, to ‘plus’ the Coral Ridge concept. The Jordan Creek proposal, unveiled in May 2000 and named after a pioneer settler to West Des Moines, sought to combine a large, traditional, super-regional enclosed mall with at least two other concepts.
The first concept, the Shopping District, consists of the mall and anchors the north end of the development. The second concept, the Lake District, sits in the middle of the complex and features a 3.5 -acre lake with walking trails, a boardwalk with waterfront dining, an ampitheater, and hotels. The third concept, the Village District, is a smattering of big-box stores arranged in a semicircle at the south end of the development. At least one retail analyst compared the Jordan Creek development with Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, only with a traditional enclosed mall added.
While I believe the first two concepts are great and well thought out, and the lake is unique, the third concept should have been more of what it claims to be – a real Village District, with pedestrian walkways and in-line shops, similar to a scaled-down version of perhaps Easton Town Center in Columbus or any of the other well-executed outdoor malls. Instead, it’s really just a smattering of buildings arranged around a sea of parking, much like a strip mall. There’s no charm here, and nothing is at all unique or interesting about this part of the development, and it bums me out a little, especially considering there were ruminations of the development being a similar or slightly-scaled down version of Country Club Plaza in nearby Kansas City.
The extant retail options in the Des Moines market in the late 90s, about the time Jordan Creek was posited, consisted of three super-regional malls: Merle Hay Mall in northwest-suburban Des Moines, Southridge Mall in southeast Des Moines, and Valley West Mall in West Des Moines. All of these malls served a niche in Des Moines’s retail landscape, but Merle Hay and especially Valley West served to lose the most from Jordan Creek’s new competition. Interestingly, that was only the case for a time, and Southridge became the loser, despite being the most distant.
In fact, the owners of both Merle Hay and Valley West Malls sued General Growth over the Jordan Creek project, arguing that it was illegal to use TIF financing in making improvements around the mall. The Iowa Supreme Court struck down the lawsuit in 2002, allowing General Growth to move forward with completing the mall.
Jordan Creek officially opened on August 4, 2004, and attracted over 17 million shoppers its first year. The enclosed mall portion of the development is two levels and anchored by Younkers and Dillards, with the addition of Scheels All Sports as a major junior anchor. The mall’s design is modern, and unlike similar dumbbell designed malls, the mall features a slight arc or curvature throughout its length, giving it the illusion of being larger than it is. The in-line stores here are decidedly destinational, with Iowa’s only Apple Store, and even more unusual – a wine bar inside Younkers.
Jordan Creek became so popular that it accounted for 37% of taxable sales at all of the Des Moines area malls, and became a boon for development in Dallas County, the county located immediately west of Polk County, where Des Moines is. Until Jordan Creek opened, development in Dallas County was limited and the county was agricultural, not suburban. Since Jordan Creek opened, the county has been inundated with not only the commercial retail development spawned by the mall and its environs, but also residential growth as well. In fact, Dallas County grew 62 percent between 2000 and 2010.
As far as the impact on the other Des Moines-area malls, it has been varied. Both Merle Hay and Valley West malls have wisely embarked on renovations and repositioning tactics to keep their centers fresh, and while they are no Jordan Creek, they seem to be holding their own. Valley West, the market leader before Jordan Creek’s arrival, sits just over 4 miles from Jordan Creek, but an extensive renovation and the retention of complementary anchors to Jordan Creek (Sears, JCPenney, and upscale Von Maur) have kept it fresh.
Merle Hay is in a tier slightly below Valley West, but retains a smart niche of anchors as well (Sears, Kohls, Younkers, Target), in addition to partial renovations and the addition of new stores to stay fresh.
Unfortunately, Southridge Mall, which is clear across the metropolitan area from Jordan Creek, has suffered the most since Jordan Creek debuted. However, Jordan Creek’s opening is probably only partially to blame for Southridge’s demise, as for many years it was the least accessible mall to the rest of Des Moines and its immediate vicinity is not growing as quickly. Interestingly, Southridge was owned by General Growth at the time of Jordan Creek’s opening, but General Growth smartly divested the property as it tumbled downhill.
We’ve visited Jordan Creek several times through the years, including the month it opened, and most recently in August 2011 when I shopped at the Express Men store, and had a weird experience. After browsing polo shirts and confirming the sale price with an employee (it was a really good deal), I browsed the rest of the store and ultimately came back to purchase one of the shirts I saw. It was the only one in my size. However, it wasn’t there. Puzzled, as there were no other customers in the store other than me that whole time, I went up to the register. Sure enough, there it was on the desk behind the registers. The employee who helped me had apparently took the shirt aside for himself. As there were no others in my size, I was annoyed, and became incredulous when the employee quickly covered up the shirt with a bunch of other stuff he was folding and got nervous. I ignored his deception and asked for the shirt and bought it. At least he wasn’t going to continue hiding it. But still, who does that?
Please feel free to leave your experiences and discuss Jordan Creek Town Center in the comments section.
Photos from August 2011: