Jordan Creek Town Center; West Des Moines, Iowa

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.

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.

Take a look at a satellite photo of the completed Jordan Town Center area here.

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:




Southridge Mall; Des Moines, Iowa

Southridge Mall was the second major mall built in metro Des Moines, after Valley West, and both malls opened within weeks of each other in 1975. The two malls also complemented each other geographically, with Valley West serving the west portion of Des Moines and Southridge driving the retail corridor on the south side. Valley West was constructed by a firm from Minneapolis, and Southridge was built by General Growth Properties.

Des Moines is Iowa’s capital and also its largest city.  With a population of over 500,000 residents, metro Des Moines has four malls that can be classified as regional or better:  Valley West and Jordan Creek Town Center, both located in West Des Moines, Merle HayMall, located in northwest-suburban Clive, and Southridge Mall, located on the southeast side of Des Moines.

Southridge Mall was the second major mall built in metro Des Moines, after Valley West, and both malls opened within weeks of each other in 1975.  The two malls also complemented each other geographically, with Valley West serving the west portion of Des Moines and Southridge driving the retail corridor on the south side.  Valley West was constructed by a firm from Minneapolis, and Southridge was built by General Growth Properties.

Before Southridge opened, the project was named Army Post Plaza, after the adjacent Army Post Road as well as an actual army post; however, the name was changed to Southridge before the mall opened.

When it opened in October 1975, Southridge was anchored by just one store, Younkers, which still sits at center court today.  Sears opened as the second anchor on the east side of the mall in 1977, and Montgomery Ward became the third anchor in 1978, located on the west side of the mall. In 1982, Omaha-based Richman Gordman became the mall’s fourth anchor, opening a store on the southwest side of the mall adjacent to Wards.

In 1984, General Growth sold Southridge to Equitable Life, an insurance company, and General Growth continued to manage the mall until 1998.  At that time, the mall was acquired by an equitable partnership between Simon and Macerich, who continues to manage the mall today.

It seemed Southridge was primed to add a fifth anchor in 1987, when Arkansas-based Dillards wished to open a store in the Des Moines market and chose Southridge.  However, a spat ensued when Younkers sued Southridge management over the Dillards addition, arguing that its lease called for only four anchor slots at the mall.  A federal judge finally ruled against Younkers in 1990, but by this time Dillards had lost interest.  Dillard’s tried again in vain to open at Valley West Mall in 2000, but that never materialized, However, this outcome wasn’t the end of it, as the judge’s decision to allow a fifth anchor opened the flood gates for other interested parties to build, which led to the addition of Target in 1992.

Dillard’s tried again in vain to open at Valley West Mall in 2000, which never materialized, but they did finally open in Jordan Creek Town Center in 2004.

Meanwhile, Richman Gordman went bankrupt in 1992 and closed their store at Southridge.   It was filled in 1994 by JCPenney, which moved from downtown Des Moines.

The 1990s were less than kind to Southridge, as the decline of many regional malls and the nature of overbuilding retail space finally caught up to metro Des Moines.  Southridge became the ‘odd man out’ as retail boxes and new construction favored clustering around the major hub on the west side. By the late 1990s, Valley West Mall, which had originally opened in tandem with Southridge on seemingly equal footing, was clearly the dominant winner in the regional market.

The retail hub for the south side, anchored by Southridge, which had visibly taken a toll to the west side’s retail dominance, was also hit by emerging retail corridors in fast-growing Pleasant Hill, Altoona, and Ankeny to the north.  The south side wasn’t growing as fast, and furthermore, it didn’t have the transportation access the north and west sides enjoyed, sitting adjacent to or directly on Interstates 35, 80, and 235.  A new southerly freeway bypass (US 65/IA 5) of Des Moines opened in 2002 close to Southridge, but it was a bit late to reclaim its status as a successful regional mall.

In 1999, Southridge lost again when Montgomery Ward announced it was leaving Des Moines as part of its first round of bankruptcy closings.  The building remained vacant until it became clear it wasn’t going to be retenanted,and was demolished in 2006 as part of a larger renovation of sorts.

Caldor and I visited Southridge around this time, and although it was not the most successful mall in the region, it was a solid performer and seemingly not in danger at the time.  One of our best memories from that trip is from Southridge, as while we exited the mall we heard a teenage girl on a payphone (yes, a payphone) very obviously and loudly discussing with her friend about a sexual encounter the friend had.  In vivid details.  About the most vivid you can imagine, in fact.

The 2000s were a sad, continuous downward spiral at Southridge Mall, culminating in a high vacancy rate of 40 out of 91 possible stores, or a 44 percent occupancy rate, by December 2009.

In 2004, yet another blow rocked the potential viability of Southridge, pushing it faster toward oblivion, as a brand new enclosed mall opened in West Des Moines, Jordan Creek Town Center.  Jordan Creek, surrounded by a complementary brand new retail corridor of big box, strip malls, and destination restaurants, was one of the last super-regional enclosed malls to open in the United States. As Jordan Creek is located on the opposite side of the Des Moines area as Southridge, 0ne might expect the two malls on the west side of Des Moines to suffer and for Southridge to flourish; instead, the opposite happened.

Interestingly, because of synergy and proactive management on the part of both Valley West and Merle Hay Malls, these centers have been able to work together with Jordan Creek Town Center to remain viable and successful.  Much more viable than Southridge, in fact, which has become a repository of vacancy and an odd collection of many local mom and pop or ethnically-focused shops, with few popular national chain stores and restaurants.

In its management’s defense, though, Southridge isn’t going down without a fight.  Much needed renovations commenced in 2006, which involved the demolition of long-vacant former Wards, sprucing up the food court, as well as adding a new children’s play area.  Mini-anchor Steve and Barry’s arrived on the scene in 2007 to breathe new life into the center; unfortunately, that store closed the very next year when the entire chain went bankrupt in 2008 due to a crazy overzealous expansion that ironically put the store there in the first place.  Nothing lost, nothing gained, I guess.

By 2009, Southridge was identified in an article about the downfall of the enclosed American mall by U.S. News and World Report as one of 84 malls in danger of failure, due to its low sales per square foot and vacancy rate.

In 2011, another direct hit came as JCPenney announced they were bailing on the sinking Southridge ship in June.  We last visited Southridge in August 2011 and took the pictures featured with this post.  The last few stores leading to the former Wards (now demolished) are boarded up now, and this end of the mall seems to be the most vacant.  The bright spots of the mall are near center court, and although the food court was remodeled, it didn’t appear to attract more businesses into it.

There are a few national chain stores (Fashion Bug, Vanity, Radio Shack, GNC, Regis) still breathing life into the mall, but by far the balance of the 40 or so stores still kicking around, other than the anchors, are mom-and-pop local stores.  Many of  these stores are geared toward a specific ethnic population (Filipino Store) or service a small interest group (Iowa Reptile Rescue).  I have no doubt that these stores help serve a niche and I wish them well, but their sole presence unaccompanied by a mix of popular chains is just not enough to get people in the doors and accomplish the synergy necessary for an enclosed regional mall to succeed.

Or maybe, just maybe, this cat at the Animal Rescue League had the right sentiment about this mall.  Mouth open, sound asleep, and snoring as loud as can be.   He was really tired from shopping at Shag, Spike, and Canton.  At least the reptiles next door at Iowa Reptile Rescue didn’t get him.  I hope you got adopted, because you were adorable:

The only saving grace for Southridge are the remaining anchors: Sears, Younkers, and Target.  Their popularity will probably keep the place afloat for a while, but a 40% vacancy rate in the mall combined with a lack of popular brands does not bode well for sustainability.

So what’s on the horizon for Southridge?  As of Fall 2011, a career academy sponsored by Des Moines Area Community College has been proposed for a portion of the recently closed JCPenney space.  We’re hopeful that the plan goes through, because Southridge’s days as a retail-only venue are numbered.  Creative mixed-use schemes have a better potential to draw people into the mall, helping to retain the stores that are already there while reducing blight.

Pictures from August 2011:

Merle Hay Mall; Des Moines, Iowa

Merle Hay Mall west addition in Des Moines, IA

The largest city in the state of Iowa, Des Moines is a growing metropolitan area of over 500,000 residents and a glowing example of midwestern urbanity.  Historically, its even keel and middle-American value have been an overall attractive package for developers. It is for this reason that Chicago retail magnates Joseph Abbell and Bernard Greenbaum chose the city to develop an early prototype of a shopping center which would become far more successful than they had ever imagined.

Merle Hay Mall main entrance in Des Moines, IAOriginally the site of a Passionist Monastery from the 1920s through the 1950s, Abbell and Greenbaum worked with Younkers, a Des Moines-based department store chain still in business today, to develop what was initially called Northland Shopping Center.  A strip mall in its early design stages, developers quickly realized the potential of the site and revamped plans to include two large department stores and four buildings around a commons area.  Not only this, they changed the name to Merle Hay Plaza, named after the road the Plaza is on but also after the first Iowan killed in World War I.  Construction on the Plaza was complete in 1959, with 31 stores including Younkers and a bowling alley which is still in operation on the site today.  Later that same year, Sears opened, and other early tenants included Kresge’s, Bishop’s Buffet, and Walgreens.  In 1965, a movie theatre and office tower were also added to the complex, making it one of the largest mixed-use facilities in the country at the time.

Merle Hay Mall pylon in Des Moines, IAIn 1972, as part of a nationwide trend, Merle Hay Plaza was enclosed, becoming Merle Hay Mall.  The climate controlled, indoor environment allowed shoppers respite from the harsh, midwestern winters and also from rain and heat in summer.  Then, in 1974, the mall doubled in size with a two-level western addition, adding anchor stores Montgomery Ward and a Younkers home store.  This expansion was mainly a response to two other regional enclosed centers being built in the market, Southridge Mall and Valley West Mall, both of which still exist today. 

Despite the mall’s enormous success at the time, tragedy struck Merle Hay Mall in November 1978 when a fire broke out in the Younkers store, killing 10 of the store’s 25 employees.  To date, it is the most devastating fire in Des Moines’ history, and destroyed the original Younkers at the mall.  The fire was caused by faulty wiring.

A new Younkers opened to replace the destroyed one within a year, and it was the only anchor change at the mall until 1991 when Younkers home store closed as Younkers exited the furniture and appliances market to focus on their fashion-oriented department stores which still exist today.  That store was replaced by Kohls in 1993; then, in 1998, a controversy which eventually led to the closure of the Wards store ensued.  It was deemed that Wards was operating a “discount store” instead of the “first class, full line department store” their lease required.  So as a response, Wards just took off, leading to St. Louis (May Company) based Famous-Barr to fill the space in 2000.  Also that year, the entire mall underwent a $20-million renovation. 

Merle Hay Mall Younkers in Des Moines, IA Merle Hay Mall Sears in Des Moines, IA

In 2004, a major retail shakup occurred in the Des Moines market as a brand new retail destination opened in West Des Moines.  Jordan Creek Town Center instantly became the category killer mall in all respects, consisting of an enclosed mall and two separate lifestyle center-style districts comprising not only retail but recreation, hotels, entertainment, and destination dining.  The insanely popular Jordan Creek has consistently sucked shoppers in central Iowa away from the three other regional malls; however, due to extensive renovations and repositioning; the other malls seem to be holding their own.  At Merle Hay Mall, Famous-Barr closed in 2004 and due to anchor shuffling Target was able to build a new store in the old Younkers space, as Younkers relocated to Famous-Barr’s old location.   

Merle Hay Mall directory in Des Moines, IAToday, Merle Hay Mall is not only still the state’s largest enclosed regional center, but also the oldest in all of Iowa.  According to ICSC, Jordan Creek Town Center has more retail space but the enclosed portion is smaller.  Interestingly, while most of the mall is located in the city of Des Moines, the tail end of the western expansion has yielded a food court which is actually located in the city of Urbandale.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of Merle Hay are its design features.  After the 1974 expansion, Merle Hay was left with two main wings.  The older (1972) wing, which connected Sears and Younkers (now Target), has very high ceilings with large windows near the top and a wide corridor.  In addition, this corridor was home to two separate “basement courts” – one which housed a bowling alley, and another which housed a restaurant and other entertainment options.  Both of these basement courts were extremely open, but only the bowling alley one is currently open.  Management appears to have shuttered the other basement court, as evidenced by the conspicuous placement of a large planter blocking the staircase leading to it from the main corridor.

The newer (western) wing, built in 1974, is absolutely amazing.  It connects the main corridor, at center court, to Kohls, Younkers, and the food court at the west side of the mall.  The best part, however, is the middle of this western wing where it randomly splits into two levels.  To get from the one-level to the two-level part requires going up or down a half level, respectively.  Also, the decor in this area is dated, and the ceiling becomes this massive archway which extends across this wide area.  It’s really kind of unexpected, and at the end it goes back to one level again to continue to the anchors and a short side hallway veers right to the food court where the mall finally ends.

Most recently, Merle Hay Mall has been in the news for being a ‘struggling’ mall – which I couldn’t disagree more with; however, the mall has lost $13 million in value since 2005 and is probably in need of some renovation to continue its overall viability into the future.  The city of Des Moines has also become antsy as the erosion of its tax base is terrible for them, so in response they have enabled a TIF district in the area surrounding the mall.  Monies from the city will help the mall and its neighbors update their facades and renovate existing locations to keep shoppers happy and in the end hopefully to get some people to ease off the gas pedal in the direction of Jordan Creek.  However, on the flip side, more than a few residents are miffed that the city is giving this area TIF financing when there are several other sections of the city that are much worse off.  Either way, I hope it helps, Merle Hay’s a cool place and we want to see it around for a long time.

The pictures featured here were taken in March 2008, when the mall seemed busy enough to me.  I think if you want to see a struggling mall, you should take a look at a few others on this site…  Feel free to add your own experiences or post something interesting you know about the mall.     

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Kennedy Mall; Dubuque, Iowa

Kennedy Mall new sign in Dubuque, IA

Dubuque is a small city of almost 60,000 people located in eastern Iowa, along the mighty Mississippi River.  The first city in Iowa, Dubuque is known for its bluffside architecture and scenic riverfront vistas.  Locally, Dubuque is the economic hub of the entire Tri-State Region, which radiates from Dubuque and extends into nearby regions of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Kennedy Mall theatres sign in Dubuque, IAThe definitive retail strip for Dubuque is mostly along U.S. 20/Dodge Street in the city’s growing West End District, west of downtown.  This strip includes several big box strip malls and one enclosed regional mall.  Kennedy Mall is a 700,000 square foot center anchored by Younkers, JCPenney and Sears with junior anchors Steve and Barrys and Borders Books. 

Kennedy Mall has changed significantly since it debuted as Iowa’s first climate controlled mall.  It all began in 1964 when Montgomery Ward decided to move from downtown Dubuque to the West End.  William Cafaro, whose company still owns the mall today, also lured Younkers and Roshek’s, a local department store, out to the same site.  In 1970, Kennedy Mall officially opened with 60 stores connecting the three anchors. 

Kennedy Mall JCPenney in Dubuque, IATrouble brewed for Kennedy Mall in the early 1980s as both Rosheks and Wards left the mall within one year of each other, in 1982 and 1983, respectively.  Fortunately, JCPenney and Armstrong’s, a Cedar Rapids based department store, stepped in and said “Never fear!” – or something to that affect – and replaced the vacant anchors as soon as they vacated.  JCPenney is still open today; however, Armstrong’s closed in the late 1980s as the entire chain went under.  Once again, Sears emerged to save the day and took over half of the Armstrong’s anchor; the other half would become a second Younkers location.  In addition, at the end of the 1980s a new food court opened at the northeast corner of the mall, following the mall’s second brush with a tornado.

Kennedy Mall Younkers in Dubuque, IAThe 1990s and early 2000s were mostly stagnant at Kennedy Mall.  It chugged along successfully, and retained its position as the commercial center for the entire Tri-State region as it is the only enclosed mall within one hour in any direction.  No foolin’. 

Kennedy Mall directory in Dubuque, IABut, in recent years, changes have been taking place more rapidly as more Big Box and strip malls have opened to the west of the mall, giving it competition for the Tri-State region’s spending dollar.  The large food court area was truncated in 2005 to make room for a Borders store, and that same year Best Buy also opened in the mall’s overflow parking area.  Walgreens recently left their outmoded in-line mall location for a stand alone, 24-hour prototype, leaving a large empty frontage.  Also in recent years, venerable space-taker Steve & Barry’s opened inside the mall.

So what about decor and design?  Well, it’s pretty standard.  Much of the decor is reminiscent of the late 80s post-tornado renovation.  Without much nearby mall competition, the only reason to renovate or reposition is to offset competition from the new big box and strip retailers in town.  As for design, Kennedy Mall is mostly one level, with a main hallway between Younkers and JCPenney and a small side hallway leading from the main entrance back to Sears. 

Kennedy Mall escalator to nowhere in Dubuque, IA

The most fascinating thing about Kennedy Mall, by far, is the ‘escalator to nowhere’ located at the end of the side hallway/Sears/Younkers wing.  It leads from the main mall concourse level up a long slope, and is flanked on each side by graduated steps of planters.  The whole thing looks really grandiose, and there’s even a neon sign above the escalator inviting you to go up there.  However, once at the top of the escalator, only two options exist.  You can either go into the upper level of Sears, or the upper level of Younkers.  Nothing else.  In order to make it even more grandiose, the whole thing is flanked with mirrors everywhere, which make it look huge, or at least like it goes somewhere.  I’m guessing the escalator was put in after Armstrong’s vacated at the end of the 1980s, after the decision was made to split the anchor in two.  Either way, it’s kind of neat to be able to access both the upper and lower levels of each anchor from the mall, but it’s simultaneously kind of anti-climactic as well. 

The pictures featured with this post were taken in February 2007.  Leave some comments and let us know what you think. 

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Kennedy Mall Younkers in Dubuque, IA 

Here are some vintage photos of Kennedy Mall courtesy of John Gallo.  Most appear to be from the mid-1980s with the exception of the Sears/Younkers one.

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Kennedy Mall Sears Younkers in Dubuque, IA

Update 6/25/08:  Kennedy Mall is undergoing an extensive renovation, which will give it a more welcoming and modern look.  Comfy seating arrangements have been installed in the mall corridor, inviting shoppers to take a break and relax during their outings.  In addition, the ceilings have been updated with a cleaner, more modern design featuring skylights and elegant, arched entryways along the main mall corridor.  Not only does this give the mall a more upscale feel, it provides bright, natural light.  Also, a Borders has been added to the renovated food court space.  While the Borders has shrunk the space for food court retailers, it is definitely a more efficient use of the space and a positive addition to the mall. 

The following pictures were provided by Cafaro Company, who owns the mall:

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Muscatine Mall; Muscatine, Iowa

Muscatine Mall pylon in Muscatine, IA

Muscatine, Iowa, which bills itself the ‘Pearl of the Mississippi’, is a small city of about 25,000 residents which lies between the Quad Cities and Iowa City and about 15 miles south of I-80.  Like many small upper Mississippi river towns, Muscatine has a rich manufacturing heritage, and is also chock full of scenic beauty and traditional Americana.

The main shopping area of Muscatine, including the mall, is located near the intersection of Park Avenue (Business 61) and the US 61 Bypass on the north side of town.  I suspect, though, that many people from Muscatine and the surrounding areas also shop in Iowa City at Coral Ridge Mall and at both Northpark and Southpark Malls in the Quad Cities, all of which are regional/super regional malls and no more than 30-45 minutes away. Muscatine Mall opened in 1971, predating the enclosed malls in the Quad Cities by several years and Coral Ridge Mall near Iowa City by 27 years.  In fact, Muscatine Mall enjoyed relative success well after all of the competition emerged, not going downhill until around 2002.

Muscatine Mall JCPenney in Muscatine, IA

We’re missing some information about the earlier years of Muscatine Mall, but we know it was anchored by Wal Mart, Von Maur, and JCPenney by the late-1980s.  Ancillary stores around that time included B. Dalton, Walgreens, Musicland, Radio Shack, and Foot Locker, around 50 stores in all.

Muscatine Mall in Muscatine, IABig changes came in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, beginning with the departure of the north anchor, Wal-Mart, in 1997.  However, in 1998, Menards swooped in and took the empty space, making Muscatine Mall one of the few malls anchored by a home improvement retailer.  Soon after, Von Maur left the south anchor spot vacant, only to be replaced by Staples.  In 1999, a redevelopment plan was announced by Landau & Heyman, Muscatine Mall’s owners, which would flip the inside out and remove the enclosed portion of the mall.  However, this never happened.  By the year 2000, the mall had transitioned from traditional to non-traditional, with an uncertain future. In 2002, both Staples and Walgreens called it quits and the south anchor once again became vacant, only to be replaced by Elder-Beerman in 2003.

Muscatine Mall JCPenney in Muscatine, IAUnfortunately, having 3 solid anchors was not enough to sustain Muscatine Mall’s success, and stores began exiting en masse around the same time Staples pulled out.  Today, Muscatine Mall is home to only a handful of stores, most of which have exterior entrances only.  The enclosed corridor is barren except for the Plaza Theaters, a Time Out arcade, GNC, a Christian book store, a few other stores and the entrance into JCPenney, which is at the back of the mall.  The frustration from locals is evident even from teens who don’t wish to drive to Iowa City or to Davenport to shop and hang out at the mall.

In July 2006 Landau & Heyman sold the mall to a group of local businessmen, and in December 2006 minutes from a Muscatine City Council meeting indicated they were seeking to create a TIF for the mall redevelopment.  As of February 2007, work is underway on the north entrance of the mall near Menards, and it is currently closed off.  Mall owners claim several national retailers are interested in the mall post-renovation.  Also, Menards is leaving the mall for newer digs nearby in 2008. What will become of Muscatine Mall?  Will plans for redevelopment some 8 years in the making finally come to light and save the mall?  Unlike many dead malls, it’s certainly possible.  Leave your comments and messages concerning Muscatine Mall below.  The photos were taken February 18, 2007.

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Crossroads Center; Waterloo, Iowa

Crossroads Center in Waterloo, IA

Home to the University of Northern Iowa, the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area is also home to meatpacking facilities, agricultural equipment production and support, and boasts a higher rate of racial diversity than most cities in Iowa.  

The metropolitan statistical area population for Waterloo and Cedar Falls has been stagnant at about 125,000 for well over three decades, indicating a lack of growth in an area of the upper midwest where some areas have grown significantly, successfully reinventing their agricultural and manufacturing sectors to put up with the demand of the new global economy.  Waterloo has, however, benefited from a bolstering of infrastructure as U.S. 20 has recently been completed to the west as a 4-lane freeway all the way to I-35, creating almost 200 miles of uninterrupted 4-lane, divided highway from Dubuque in the east to Fort Dodge in the west.  In addition, Waterloo is connected to Interstate 80 via Interstate 380, a 73-mile spur route designed to give Cedar Rapids and Waterloo access to the Interstate Highway System, which is important for local commerce.

Crossroads Center directory in Waterloo, IAAs the center of retail commerce for a large swath of mostly rural northeastern Iowa, Waterloo is the home to many national chains and two enclosed malls.  Opened in 1970, Crossroads Center is the dominant of the two, the other being College Square in adjacent Cedar Falls.  Anchored by Dillards (which opened as an addition to the mall in 1996), JCPenney, Sears and Younkers, other major stores include Old Navy, Scheels All Sports, Gordmans and CVS.  Crossroads Center is currently owned by Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate and money management firm based in Chicago.  It is located near the intersection of Interstate 380 and U.S. 20 on the south side of Waterloo.

The decor and layout of Crossroads Center is impressive and feels somewhat dated, despite a minor renovation in 2005.  As a two-level mall with 800,000 square feet, the horizontal footprint of the mall feels much smaller than similar sized one-level malls.  In addition, I would suggest that the anchors are square-footage heavy, also leading to the feeling that the mall’s in-line space isn’t very large.  The most impressive feeling comes from the mall’s very open layout in the mall’s center, featuring a full sized carousel on the ground floor which opened in 2004 and tall, somewhat modern looking towers of colored glass functioning as planters.  Such a design is not modern by any means, and harkens back to a time when malls were viewed as places of community withCrossroads Center in Waterloo, IA a certain esthetic and not just a means to maximize profit per square foot.  The anchors flank the spaces around the mall’s large open area, and there are few hallways radiating outward from this center.  One small hallway leads to Dillards and it is almost completely devoid of stores, as you can see in the pictures. Another interesting feature involves the stacking of anchors, where Younkers is placed directly on top of JCPenney.     

The photos below were taken in October 2006.  Let us know more about this history of Crossroads Center, of Waterloo, or leave your own personal anecdotes. 

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Crossroads Mall; Fort Dodge, Iowa

'Live Spiders' in a dead Walgreens, Crossroads Mall, Fort Dodge, IA 

Crossroads Mall is located on the south side of Fort Dodge, in north central Iowa, population 25,000.  However, don’t let the seemingly small size fool you, because Fort Dodge is essentially the only population center for miles around.  Of the nearest larger cities: Ames is 60 miles south, Des Moines is about 100 miles south, Waterloo is 100 miles east, and Sioux City is 120 miles to the west.  According to J Herzog Inc, the mall’s owner, the mall draws from an immediate trade area of 117,000 and an extended trade area of 284,000 in a 60-mile radius.  For hours in any direction there are nothing but mostly corn and soy fields on flat or gently rolling plains, dotted by the occasional one-horse town.  As an aside, take a look at this interesting photo tour of Fort Dodge, including the mall.  It shows many of the interesting things in the city, including the very old downtown.  Like many cities established during the frontier and industrial heyday, Fort Dodge has experienced a significant decline and economic stagnation in recent years, complete with the problems of much larger cities like urban decay, poverty, and a downtown straight out of 1960.  Despite this, it still remains a unique and interesting place and a close-knit midwestern community.

Crossroads Mall is a typical regional shopping center straight out of rural middle America in every way.  Anchored by JCPenney, Sears, and Younkers, the mall also has about 50 other smaller stores including many national or regional chain retailers such as B. Dalton, Christopher and Banks, Foot Locker, FYE, Maurices, and Shoe Sensation, just to name a few.  It contains about 480,000 square feet of retail space (including the anchors), making it a substantially sized enclosed mall.   

I visited Crossroads Mall in April 2002 and took the pictures below.  J Herzog indicates the mall was renovated when they acquired it in 2000; however, I saw almost no signs of this.  The mall probably got a few new fixtures and a new coat of paint or something, because much of the infrastructure of the mall appeared to be at least 20-30 years old, if not more.  As the mall draws from such a large area, it is mostly successful when you consider the demographics.  You won’t find Banana Republic (or even the Gap) here, you’ll have to drive an hour down to Ames to find that.  Instead, the stores here are more typical of a hard working-class, agricultural area.  With lots of grandmas (keep reading).  

all the Grandmas of Fort Dodge, IA

On a more personal level, the mall amused me with endless randomness more than anything else.  In the middle of the mall hallway was something that vaguely resembled a mailbox, but was instead for hearing aids.  There were several errant hearing aids strewn about beneath the mailbox, indicating they missed their intended destination somehow, which was kind of odd (and gross).  Strolling farther down the mall I noticed an unused kiosk that had a locked display.  Behind the glass it was papered with flyers created in MS Word or something that exclaimed “Meet Grandma!” and had pictures of grandmothers grinning ear-to-ear followed underneath by the Grandmas’ complete descriptions, likes and dislikes, and what they do for fun (Casinos and doll collecting, anyone?).  Inside the display case were apparently one of the Grandmas’ robes, some of their personal Grandma-accoutrements, a video (possibly about Grandmas, I don’t remember?), and a completely random cloth bag full of different colored tissue papers.  I moved on.  In another part of the mall, on the outside of what appeared to be a dead Walgreens store, was a handmade sign which simply read “Live Spiders” – needless to say I kept my distance from that.  In the same vain there was another sign that randomly read “Coin toss” down a side hallway. Then there was the display of “vintage catalogs” strewn about a table in front of JCPenney, apparently in connection with their 100th anniversary that year.  I started looking at them out of curiosity when an elderly JCPenney employee frantically waddled over and exclaimed, “Those are old catalogs!  You can’t buy anything from them!” and I told her very politely I realized this and that I was just browsing them.  She apparently didn’t hear what I said at all (or ignored me) and quickly said “I’ll get you a current catalog.  Can’t buy anything out of those, they’re for display purposes only!” and she waddled off into the store somewhere.  I almost said “Are you featured on the Grandma kiosk?” but decided against it and ducked out the side exit to the mall.  I’m going to bet she turned in her hearing aid to that yellow mailbox a bit early.  I just hope she didn’t miss…  

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