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A dead summit.

SIMON PROPERTY GROUP Inc. of Indianapolis finally announced what most of us had expected--plans for a megamall on Interstate 430 in Little Rock were dead.

We embraced the development with such a warm reception, it's stunning that Simon would now turn away.

Of course realty is that Little Rock made the process just as difficult as possible, and the "aginners" won. A new destination that would have drawn people to Little Rock to spend money wasn't appropriate for city investment or incentives.

The news is a windfall for local real estate developers. Now they can woo the retailers that want to expand or locate in the market to their projects throughout west Little Rock.

What's going to be sad is listening to the Summit Mall opposition leaders and groups try to explain why their effort still didn't protect and save University Mall. That, and concern in general for midtown Little Rock, were always such misguided concerns in the Summit Mall debate. You simply can't force retail development in a particular area -unless you apply the very tax incentives the aginners opposed in the first place.

The best news about closure on the Summit Mall issue is that retailers and developments that have been in a holding pattern will unleash investment. While Little Rock has been on the sidelines, large-scale retail developments have proceeded in Conway and northwest Arkansas.

The Little Rock media were beside themselves over the opening of a branch of a national chain bakery last week.

At least one television station made the impending opening its lead story on the 10 p.m. newscast. Television executives in local markets wonder why they continue to lose audience share, and this was a perfect example why.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran a large photo and story on the cover of its business section gushing over the arrival. Buried inside was a catch-up summary story on the legal problems of attorneys Keith Moser and Ted Skokos that had previously been reported in Arkansas Business and our Daily Report e-newsletter.

Just about every news outlet in the market received boxes of free food from the chain, which boasts about its ability to generate free publicity and not advertise. Boxes arrived at our office, and I didn't touch the stuff.

It's humorous to me that a national carbohydrate-and-fat chain or a national coffeehouse chain comes to town, and the media can't give them enough positive and downright giddy attention. Local establishments get a little attention only by virtue of being asked what they think about the national boys coming to town. Heck, Arkansas Business is just as guilty on this front.

But through the years when a new Wal-Mart store has arrived or expanded in a market, the coverage approach by media is how big, bad Wal-Mart is going to hurt local business. The media aren't anxious to receive any Wal-Mart popcorn as payola, and Wal-Mart doesn't care to contact the local media about openings anymore because it knows the negative angle will be taken.

We all know the media are powerful brand builders. But here's the business lesson to be learned: If your brand happens to be food or drink that's good, just send free samples and the media will eat and drink you to success.

Jeff Hankins can be reached via e-mail at jhankins@abpg.com.
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Title Annotation:Publisher's Note
Author:Hankins, Jeff
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Feb 23, 2004
Words:554
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