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Jonesboro's Indian mall marked for sale builder of Rival Mall at Turtle Creek expresses interest.

IN 1967, JONESBORO'S INDIAN MALL WAS in a race to claim bragging rights as the first mall developed in Arkansas. Forty years later, the 378,000-SF project is relegated to the status of a ghost center, a shadow of its former status as the shopping magnet in northeast Arkansas.

The only signs of life in the mall are a few mostly retirement-aged walkers, some striding and others strolling in clockwise circuits past empty storefronts and through the vacant food court.

Some of the storefronts bear the names of former tenants: Claire's, Footlocker, Payless Shoesource, Sam Goody, Maurice's, Petty's Hallmark Shop, Bath Junkie, Journeys, Afterthoughts, Vanity, Champs Sports, Fashion Nails, Tevors and The Berry Patch.

Indian Mall would be a retailing graveyard if not for its anchor tenant on the south end of the property. In contrast to the library-like atmosphere of the mall, Sears is alive with activity on a recent Friday morning.

Shoppers are checking out merchandise sporting yellow clearance tags inside the store and milling about goods in the green-tag tent sale on the parking lot.

This flourish of commerce is more than a snapshot hearkening to glory days. The scene, represents a hopeful harbinger of better times for the property and changes on the way.

Sears has renewed its 80,000-SF lease in advance of a sale expected during the next few weeks. Accompanying that change of ownership will be redevelopment plans for Indian Mall.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

However, those plans are expected to mean the venerable mall will be torn down and replaced with a modern "lifestyle center." The end of Indian Mall appears to be on a parallel timetable that also will mark next year's demise of its namesake: Arkansas State University's mascot.

A top executive at Warmack & Co. LLC of Texarkana, Texas, the mall's owner, is reticent concerning new doings at the project his father developed.

"A lot of good opportunities took place at Indian Mall during the past 40 years, but sometimes things run their economic course," John Warmack said. "We'll see what the future holds."

The leading candidate for acquiring Indian Mall and its prime location at the northwest corner of Highland Drive and Caraway Road is MBC Holdings LLC.

"If that property were for sale, we would have a strong interest in it," said Bruce Burrow of Jonesboro, who leads MBC with partner Marty Belz.

For now, the 32-acre development officially remains listed for sale at $15 million.

Besides Sears, the only other store still open is on the northern end of the mall. The 54,300-SF anchor slot is home to a Dillard's clearance center. The secondary use of the space reflects the Little Rock-based chain's remaining lease obligation after opening a bigger store in The Mall at Turtle Creek.

Reasons for Decline

Some attribute the decline of Indian Mall to the arrival of the new 760,000-SF rival that Bruce Burrow helped develop. J.C. Penney joined Dillard's in leaving Indian Mall in favor of Turtle Creek, opening stores there during the fall of 2005.

The $107 million Turtle Creek development also sports Target as a third large anchor tenant joined by a trio of smaller anchors: Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond and Circuit City.

However, a competitive cause-and-effect scenario between Indian Mall and Turtle Creek is more complicated than old giving way to new.

Ed Warmack, now in his 90s, took steps toward developing a new, larger mall to replace his Indian Mall more than a decade ago. Under his direction, land was acquired and the site prepared for Southern Hills Mall. Indian Mall's three anchors were lined up to relocate to new and larger quarters there.

At one time, plans called for Southern Hills to have 961,000 SF under roof. Later it was downsized to 600,000 SF with a projected opening in October 2003. Once the $55 million project opened, the Warmack family intended to redevelop Indian Mall.

However, construction of Southern Hills never went beyond grading work on the 139-acre site at the northeast corner of Keller's Chapel Road and U.S. 49. The property in the southwest part of Jonesboro remains dormant, listed for sale at $6 million.

A half-mile east of Indian Mall, a 70-acre site at the northeast corner of Stadium and Highland drives is now home to The Mall at Turtle Creek, which is closing in on its first 18 months of operations.

While it appears Warmack & Co. lost the mall development race, MBC Holdings likely won by default.

During the past several years, Warmack & Co.'s track record indicates the family has been more interested in selling assets than developing new ones such as Southern Hills Mall.

The liquidation encompasses all of Warmack's mall holdings: the 966,000-SF Central Mall in Fort Smith, 568,000-SF Central Mall in Texarkana, Texas; and 563,000-SF Central Mall in Port Arthur, Texas.

Other former mall holdings include Central Mall in Salina, Kan.; Central Mall in Lawton, Okla., and Arrowhead Mall in Muskogee, Okla.

The elder Warmack's interest in making Southern Hills Mall happen apparently wasn't shared by all of his six children. Plans for the project were shelved with Ed Warmack closing in on the century mark and most of his middle-aged children uninterested in growing the business.

"The Pioneer Developer"

In its day, Warmack & Co. was a successful commercial developer with a portfolio of more than 50 retail and warehouse properties in 12 states.

The company was founded and headquartered in Fort Smith until 1989 when Ed Warmack moved operations to Texas, a land of zero personal income tax.

In Jonesboro, Warmack is remembered as a tough businessman who followed his own course when city fathers tried to dissuade him from developing Indian Mall on what was the edge of town.

"It was certainly a bold move, and the rest of it was history," said Johnny White, owner of his namesake commercial realty firm in Jonesboro. "He was the pioneer developer there.

"As a lifelong resident, that is still the best corner in town, and I don't think anyone would disagree with me. It probably has been and always will be."

Before Warmack developed the mall, the property was home to Woody's Driving Range, with painted tires half buried in the ground to mark the yardage.

At the time, Wilkins Avenue (now on the north side of Indian Mall) was not yet extended to Caraway Road, which wasn't paved south of Highland Drive.

Dr. Doug Woods remembers the property also was once a meadow where Charolais cattle grazed until his grandmother sold it to Warmack.

Earl Gairhan was a loan officer at Mercantile Bank in Jonesboro who worked with Warmack during the development of Indian Mall. "He was a hard-nosed rascal," Gairhan said.

There is some debate over which Arkansas mall opened first during the mid-1960s, Phoenix Mall in Fort Smith or Indian Mall.

"I think Indian Mall was the first," said John Warmack. "It was an innovative new shopping center project at the time."

Blass was the original department store anchor at Indian Mall. The space was rebranded after Dillard's acquired Blass.

Gone but not forgotten are other retailing names from the mall's opening days: Stimson's Supermarket, TG&Y, Ragan's Shoes, Bettye Bliss, Singer Sewing Center, Zale's Jewelers, Butler Shoes, Merle Norman, a dress shop called The Place, Carousel Beauty, House of Wigs, Luby's Cafeteria, Bell Shoes, LePetit Sidewalk Cafe, Broadnaux Jewelers and Paperback Bookstore.

Penney's joined the roster of tenants several years during the 1970s, relocating from downtown Jonesboro.

After TG&Y closed, Dillard's took over the space to operate a men's store. The mall was renovated in the 1980s and a food court was added. A new main entrance was built in connection with the food court as Stimson's vacated its space.

In its heyday, Indian Mall was a shopping mecca for northeast Arkansas, and the project is remembered fondly.

"It sure attracted a lot of people to Jonesboro," Earl Gairhan said. "It was one of the key things that helped Jonesboro grow."

By George Waldon

george@abpg.com
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Title Annotation:COMMERCIAL Real Estate
Comment:Jonesboro's Indian mall marked for sale builder of Rival Mall at Turtle Creek expresses interest.(COMMERCIAL Real Estate)
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Aug 6, 2007
Words:1340
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