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Redeveloping an Indiana Mall with New Uses: Research Helps Find the Demand Drivers

November 1, 2022

Park Development managing partner Joe DiCosola is turning an empty mall in the northern Indiana town of Logansport into a mixed-use hub. Others had balked at buying the 20-acre site, but the Chicago developer had a hunch about Logansport Mall — and backed up that hunch with eight months of due diligence, including multiple market studies. The effort revealed pent-up demand for hospitality, residential and retail in the trade area, he said.

“Sometimes developers get anxious. If the deal doesn’t go through, they don’t want to have to come out of pocket for $50,000 for all those studies,” DiCosola said. “I was willing to spend the money in advance and take the risk.”

But his firsthand observations also were part of the process. “The first time I tried to stay at the Holiday Inn Express across from the mall, I couldn’t get a room,” DiCosola said. A bit more digging showed brisk business at hotels in and around Logansport. The developer’s hotel feasibility study quantified the phenomenon and pointed to overflow demand from nearby cities like Lafayette, where Purdue University football games draw tens of thousands of people. “The study identified hotels as one of the best assets to be built on the mall site,” DiCosola said. “The room shortage was such that you could almost build two hotels there.”

The 30-year real estate veteran bought the mall, its Sears parcel and an entrance area for $1.4 million in February 2020. He had learned about the opportunity from the bank that had taken back the distressed property. All told, renovations and construction related to the redevelopment, dubbed The Junction, will cost about $20 million, including plenty of retail but also a hotel with 90-plus rooms, according to a project website.

The reinvention of Logansport Mall will include a Home2 Suites by Hilton on the site of the former JCPenney.

Rethinking the Site

Logansport Mall opened on East Market Street back in 1968 but gradually began losing retailers like Sears, Staples, GNC, JCPenney and Joann in 2014. Dollar Tree and Dunham’s Sports have stayed open and continue to perform well, DiCosola said. Meanwhile, shadow anchors Walmart and The Home Depot are major draws in Cass County — population: approximately 40,000. The Walmart brings in more than $85 million in annual sales, according to Park Development.

A time capsule being buried during Logansport Mall’s 1968 grand opening in 1968. Photos above and at top courtesy of the Pharos-Tribune

Key components of The Junction include:

  • Demolition of about 400,000 square feet of the old mall and transformation of the rest into an open-air retail center, resulting in nearly 160,000 square feet of retail space in all. “Imagine walking into the mall and going down to the face of the Sears store,” DiCosola said. “We kept the anchor, but everything in front of it came down.” The Sears interior was demolished, as well to prep for a replacement tenant that is negotiating for the space.
  • A 15,000-square-foot Planet Fitness, which opened in spring 2021 on the northwest corner of the new open-air center, and a 15,000-square-foot Harbor Freight opening on the northeast corner in January.
  • A new facade with stonework accents, natural colors and large windows. This facade will appear on repurposed mall buildings and on a strip center southwest of the mall. The developer also will build a 35-foot-tall pylon sign.
  • A Home2 Suites by Hilton on the JCPenney site. Sulai Hospitality, which bought the anchor parcel, is wrapping up construction on the hotel, and a grand opening is slated for November.
  • Improved showcasing and access to existing tenants like Dunham’s Sports. Demolition of the mall, DiCosola noted, has allowed for a high parking ratio: eight parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross leasable area. “Before the demolition, everyone had to walk from the main entrance [of the then-enclosed mall] 250 or 300 feet to get to Dunham’s,” the developer noted. “Now, Dunham’s and other tenants have parking right in front of their store. Customers can just run in and pick something up.”
  • A boost to the performance of the preexisting Dollar Tree-anchored strip center on the property. The Junction is in late-stage negotiations with two Inspire Brands food-and-beverage concepts to locate just across from Dollar Tree, DiCosola said.

Leasing Strategy

According to studies by Buxton, Logansport is underserved in several retail categories, including men’s, women’s and children’s apparel. Lee & Associates Indianapolis president Scot Courtney is pursuing junior anchors and other tenants for The Junction based in part on those findings. “We’re explaining to retailers that they’ve got a captive market here that often has to drive a significant distance to shop for certain things,” the broker said. “Frankly, there are multiple retail segments that are not even represented in Logansport. For example, there isn’t a pet supplies junior box in the market.”

Other key needs include home goods, hobbies/crafts and treasure-hunt discount stores like Five Below. In addition, Courtney is pursuing medical offices, day care centers, entertainment concepts and restaurants. “We have roughly 40,000 square feet of interest from prospective tenants right now with a letter of intent negotiation on half of that. A commitment on the other 20,000 square feet is imminent.”

The Junction stands to fill the retail void created by the decline of Logansport Mall, Courtney said. “At one point in time, the mall’s Sears and JCPenney were the go-to stores for a lot of different needs, but when those concepts waned, there wasn’t the backfill that should’ve taken place.”

New Easements

As Courtney sees it, co-location of Logansport’s Walmart, which opened in 2010, is a strong selling point for prospective tenants. “There are countless examples where Walmart would go to the opposite end of town in markets of this size with smaller enclosed malls,” the broker explained. “In this case, Walmart and The Home Depot are right next door. It’s a unique opportunity for other retailers to be at the corner of Main and Main.”

ALSO CHECK OUT: When Mall Anchors Block Mall Redos

Seeking to tighten connections and bolster cross-shopping between the three properties, DiCosola also negotiated new easement agreements covering both shadow anchors. These separately formalized agreements allow all three parties to coordinate on branding, traffic flow and other fundamentals. “Having these easement agreements means that, for example, Walmart customers can come to our property without having to go back onto one of the main roads and vice versa,” DiCosola said. “It’s a big benefit for them and for us.”

Ramping Up the Rooftops

Less than a mile from The Junction, DiCosola’s Park Development is moving forward with a project that could drive more traffic to the mall redevelopment: a new eastside residential subdivision called Lexington Village. Plans call for 52 single-family houses ranging from 900 to 3,000 square feet.

Lexington Village

Major employers have expressed concern about the shortage of residential homes in Logansport and Cass County, DiCosola said, and so local officials are working to facilitate infrastructure funding for the subdivision by tapping various public sources.

The community’s resilient manufacturing sector is fueling some of that housing demand, explained Cass Logansport Economic Development Organization executive director Bill Cuppy. “Our largest employer, Tyson Foods, employs about 2,400 people, and its compensation just keeps rising.”

Meanwhile, four of Logansport’s top 10 manufacturers have doubled the square footage of their plants over the past couple of years: mattress springs maker Myers Spring, meat processor and distributor BHJ USA, metal fabricator Logan Stampings and Foppers Dog Treats, which sells to the likes of Walgreens and Walmart.

Newly hired execs are candidates to buy Lexington Village’s premium home models, as are professionals who work in Logansport but drive back and forth to subdivisions in cities like Peru, Kokomo and Lafayette. “We are trying to capture that demographic: people who want to stay in town and would like to have a home that is over $300,000,” DiCosola explained. “Right now, you can buy a nice house in Logansport for less than that, but you’re not getting the same amenities.”

The mall redevelopment also bolsters the appeal of the eastside, Cuppy said. “We are already seeing higher land prices because of The Junction and the new hotel.”

Downtown Draw

As Cuppy sees it, authentic local businesses are another draw. “Tyson Foods is a big player here, and we are one of the most diverse communities in the state,” he said. The diversity has translated into lots of mom-and-pop businesses, including Jehovah-Jireh Haitian Market, Dhing’s Thai-Philippine Cuisine and Rongmei Asian Market. “Anytime you’re looking for authentic options, I cannot imagine it being more authentic than Logansport,” Cuppy said. “We’ve got grocery stores and restaurants from Guatemala, Haiti, [Myanmar]. It’s the real deal.”

Meanwhile, downtown businesses like Bonus Pints, Black Dog Coffee and Science Project Brewing Co. are hopping, Cuppy says. “In the front of Bonus Pints, you’ve got a vinyl record store, and then behind that, there’s a restaurant with an arcade,” he said. “People’s Winery is across the street in an old bank building. Most of these downtown places have exposed brick, garage doors that pull open or things like outdoor beer gardens. We’re seeing more and more of these nonfranchise businesses.”

DiCosola, too, is a believer in downtown. The developer is expanding downtown’s Corner North Residences from 23 to 36 units and at press time was set to close on a second downtown residential building. “It will consist of a good mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, approximately 48 to 52 units in all,” he said. “There are a lot of properties downtown that don’t have parking, unit laundry or even an elevator. We’re adding those and a few other amenities.”

As Courtney works to raise Logansport’s profile among national retailers, he is optimistic about the community’s trajectory. “It’s one of those markets that is on the cusp,” he said. “Logansport has gone through its tough times with the decline of the mall, but it has rebounded in a significant way.”

By Joel Groover

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

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