by Max Brantley
After lo these many years of letting University Mall distintegrate into a dangerous, hollow, grimy pile of mold and pigeon poop -- and finally within inches of losing a federal court suit over its management -- the universe's largest property developer, Simon Property Group, has hired a local PR firm to declare it has only the best interests of the mall, midtown and the entire city at heart. If only those mean owners of the ground under the mall would be reasonable and work with, not against, Simon on a redevelopment of the property for a mixed use project -- retail, commercial and residential.
Good idea. It would have been better back when Simon was working in league with Dillard's to trash all of midtown with its Summit Mall. Back when Simon was deadbeating the city on money it promised to pay for a midtown study. Back when -- and still -- it stonewalled every effort by every reporter to get information out of the famously secretive outfit. Back when -- and still -- it was grossly misrepresenting the extent of work it had done to make University Mall viable again.
Perhaps you detect a lack of sympathy for Simon. You detect right.
But I'll take a deep breath. The old mall needs to go. A new development needs to take its place. It does not need any subsidies from taxpayers, not with Charles Cella and similar owning the land under the mall and Simon with a long-term lease on development. They can afford to finance a new project. Let's see a serious proposal. Let's get out of court and build something good there. But expect my sympathy for Simon to be in short supply. Simon has been a bad citizen. It needs to do more than issue a news release to prove it's changed its tune.
Simon news release, from the Paschall group, on the jump.
Taking the next step in a productive dialogue that began when a delegation of Little Rock leaders visited its headquarters in August, Simon Property Group, Inc.
(NYSE:SPG), the country’s largest owner, developer and manager of high
quality retail real estate, announced today its desire to redevelop the
University Mall property into a mixed-use development.
SPG strongly believes that the best course of action is to demolish the
existing obsolete structure and redevelop the entire project. SPG
believes that a redeveloped property will be economically robust and
one that is a source of pride for the city of Little Rock. Investing
additional money into the existing buildings at University Mall is
without merit and moreover, unappealing to potential tenants.
We plan to continue the dialogue with the city of Little Rock, the
Midtown Redevelopment Advisory Board, interested residents and the
landowners of the site about what is desirable, what is possible and
how we can work together to make it happen. We anticipate unveiling
more formal plans in the coming weeks detailing Simon’s vision for the
future of University Mall.
However, we must all be mindful of the significant hurdles that must be
overcome to make the rebirth of University Mall a reality. We are
currently locked into a restrictive lease with the landowners which
significantly inhibits our options for redevelopment. We believe that
the parties can best resolve their concerns without court intervention
if they can agree on changes to pave the way for redevelopment.
We feel that the best use of the site is a mixed-use center with
retail, office and residential space. We anticipate the mixed-use
development will become a thriving area of commerce and hasten the
revitalization that has begun in the Mid-town area of the city. Simon
is confident that if the obstacles to redevelopment can be surmounted,
it can deliver a first-class development to the citizens of Little