Jordan Creek Mall Seeks Fresh Feel on 10th Anniversary
Iowa's largest and fanciest mall, Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, has changed shopping, dining, and entertainment in central Iowa in its first 10 years.
Owners of the $200-million lifestyle center have made good on a promise to bring new stores and entertainment to visitors. Increasing competition from online shopping, however, has them pushing hard to keep the center fresh and appealing.
Mall officials and shoppers still hope for a fourth anchor, preferably tony department store Nordstrom. And as 10-year leases expire in the next six months—about 50 percent of the shops are affected—new tenants will move in, said Randy Tennison, general manager.
Mall officials are constantly courting stores that customers have said they want to see at Jordan Creek, including H&M, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Oakley. Mall owner General Growth Properties has some of the stores at its other malls.
"Some retailers are looking at the market, and others have said the metro is not at the mark yet," said Tennison of the area's population. "We're holding out for Nordstrom."
Nordstrom continues to give its pat answer: "We're always looking for great locations, but we have no plans right now to locate a store in West Des Moines."
Ongoing success may not be all about finding the right retailers. The demise of regional shopping malls has long been predicted, as online sales increase and smaller shopping centers proliferate. Mall owners need to respond to shoppers looking for more of an experience, including service and entertainment, one analyst said.
"I've come to the conclusion that within 10 to 15 years, the typical U.S. mall, unless completely reinvented, will be seen as a historical anachronism that no longer meets the needs of the public, retailers, or communities," Rick Caruso, chief executive of a large, privately held real estate development company in Los Angeles, said in an address this year at the National Retail Federation convention. "People want to engage and feel a sense of community."
To that end, Jordan Creek stages seasonal events including the lighting of a huge Christmas tree, live music performances at its outdoor amphitheater, Drake Relays pole vaulting events, and fundraisers. A glow-in-the-dark miniature golf center was added this summer, and more restaurants have joined the center within the past six months.
"One of the things we want to be is an entertainment destination," Tennison said. "Very few malls have fireworks at their events."
To remain relevant, shopping malls need to create an environment to attract consumers who want to do more than shop, agreed John Gallo, lecturer of finance at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business.
He also said Jordan Creek developers hit the mark with locating the mall in a growing part of the metro where new businesses and residential developments draw people to events and shopping.
High occupancy rate becomes challenge
The biggest challenge for Jordan Creek is that 99 percent of the mall is leased, Tennison said. That means existing retailers have to be juggled, shifted, or bounced so the mall can carve out space for new stores.
Several retailers, including Christopher & Banks, CJ Banks, Torrid, and True Style, have moved to the Village area, making room inside the mall for new unidentified tenants, he said.
Space wasn't an issue when the mall opened on Aug. 4, 2004. About 70 percent of the mall was filled, and more stores were on the way. Shoppers were whipped into a frenzy over shops like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, J.Jill, J.Crew, and the Apple store. People no longer had to drive to Omaha, Kansas City, or Minneapolis to shop at their favorite retailers.
"We recognized early on that having retail with streetscapes, an outdoor shopping experience, and clustering restaurants around a water feature would make for a successful mall," said John Bucksbaum, former chief executive of Chicago-based General Growth.
"There were more of those elements in Jordan Creek than in any other project at the time," he said.
Bucksbaum, whose family business had its roots in Des Moines, wanted to make the mall a showpiece.
The mall landed anchors Younkers, Scheels, Dillard's, and a movie theater.
Without the strong anchors, it would have been difficult for any mall to withstand an economic downturn similar to the 2008 recession, Bucksbaum said.
General Growth eventually reorganized and was sold after filing for bankruptcy in 2009. Bucksbaum, who was forced out as chairman, now operates a smaller retail development company in Chicago called Bucksbaum Retail Properties.
Bucksbaum asked: Was mall needed?
Ironically, Bucksbaum was initially opposed to the West Des Moines project. "I didn't think Des Moines needed another retail center. But I got sold along the way."
The massive retail project was two years in the planning and another two in construction. Since then, retail, commercial, and residential projects have sprouted up around the mall. As new-to-the-state retailers succeeded at Jordan Creek, other developers lured similar businesses to their projects.
Nordstrom Rack and HomeGoods will open soon at the development anchored by Dick's Sporting Goods, west of the mall. More stores will come as others empty, but available lots are disappearing.
"Clearly the power of the mall has provided the opportunity for other development," said Harry Wolf of Buyers Realty, the Des Moines-based real estate brokerage firm that developed a group of strip malls near the mall called the Galleria.
"There's no question that retailers want to locate near other successful retailers," he said.
Sales figures boom in Dallas County
State sales tax figures in Polk and Dallas counties show just how successful Jordan Creek has been.
Before the mall opened in 2003, the portion of West Des Moines that sits in Dallas County where Jordan Creek was built had a total of $50 million in sales tax receipts. That jumped to $682 million, a 1,264 percent increase, in 2013. While it's not all mall sales, it's an indication of retail growth in the area near Jordan Creek.
Polk County saw an overall increase during the 10 years of about 13 percent to $7 billion in sales tax receipts, although the city of Des Moines saw a 10.8 percent drop.
Jordan Creek's sales are likely coming from a nine-county region around Dallas County, based on sales tax receipts and county populations, said Liesl Eathington, an economist at Iowa State University.
"Dallas County's retail growth is probably coming at the expense of Polk County," she said.
Overall, Jordan Creek has exceeded everyone's expectations, said Clyde Evans, West Des Moines' director of community and economic development. "When I bring people in from out of town, they always say it wasn't what they were expecting."
Jordan Creek forces shifts at other malls
Jordan Creek's success has challenged other malls in the metro. Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines has reinvented itself as a value mall with retailers like Target, Kohl's, Shoe Carnival, and others. It also is adding a new-to-the-area dine-in movie theater and brew pub, which will open this fall.
Valley West Mall, also in West Des Moines and once the metro's premier shopping mall, has struggled to keep fresh and filled with shoppers.
Valley West's sales dropped about 15 percent when Jordan Creek opened, said Paul Stender, the mall's general manager.
"We were on our way back up when the economy had a meltdown," he said.
The food court, which once had nine spots for fast-food restaurants, has been pared to six. But things have stabilized, and the occupancy rate is about 92 percent, he said.
"Our anchors are very strong," he said, referring to Von Maur, Younkers, and the sole J.C. Penney store left in the metro.
Melodie Barkley, co-owner of Calypso 968, an eclectic gift and furniture shop at Valley West, has seen foot traffic decrease.
She has pulled back on inventory levels, looked for more unique items to offer, and upped the number of antique furniture pieces she sells. The store also offers a monthly session with a psychic and daily wine tastings.
Before Jordan Creek opened, "tournament time in Des Moines was a busy time for us," she said. "They all used to come here when they came to town. Now they go to Jordan Creek."
But today, "I've heard people say that they decided to come here because they don't have to fight the crowds."
Fun facts about the mall
• Actress Abigail Breslin, who starred in the 2010 film Janie Jones, told Jimmy Fallon in 2011 that she visited Jordan Creek Town Center while filming the movie in Des Moines. "Jordan Creek mall in Des Moines, Iowa, is like Disneyland," she told the talk show host.
3.7: Number of Jordan Creek malls needed to fill Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
200 acres: Size of the mall property
8,000: Number of strollers rented per year
Saturday: Busiest day of the week
5 to 8 p.m.: Busiest time of the day
3,500: Approximate number of people employed at the mall during the holiday season
Celebrate the anniversary
Jordan Creek will celebrate its 10-year anniversary today. The festivities will begin at 5 p.m., when Tony Bohnenkamp and his band play at a free concert at the Jordan Creek amphitheater. The event includes cupcakes by Live Love Bake and a cash-only beer and wine garden provided by Wine Experience. Fireworks will begin at dusk.
Shopping malls vs. cyber sales
2013 online retail sales nationally: $2.6 billion, which accounts for 6 percent of total retail sales
2013 shopping center sales nationally: $2.5 trillion, which accounts for 55 percent of total retail sales
Source: International Council of Shopping Centers
How heads are counted
About 20 million people visit Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines each year, said Randy Tennison, general manager.
The center counts cars electronically and then multiplies that by 2.5, which is the industry average for people per car.
Ten years ago when the mall opened, about 16 million people visited Jordan Creek. The numbers dipped during the recession, but have now rebounded, Tennison said.
90: Stores in West Des Moines' Jordan Creek Town Center when it opened in 2004
135: Stores in the mall now
16 million people visited Jordan Creek in its first year
20 million people now visit the mall each year