The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on February 2, 1986 · Page 39
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 39

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, February 2, 1986
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Page 39
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The Salina Journal Sunday, February 2,1986 Page S3 Warmack fought six years for Central Mall By SCOTT SEIRER News Editor Salina City commissioner John Burgess remembers being so shaken at one point in the six-year Central Mall controversy that he couldn't steady his hand to eat soup. . Phil Ray, a downtown merchant and outspoken opponent of construction of the mall who was ostracized in some circles, remembers with some astonishment receiving death threats over the telephone. Ed Warmack, the Fort Smith, Ark., shopping center developer who is building the Central Mall in south Salina, said he has faced "more trouble in Salina than all the rest of them (his mall developments) put together.'' ; "I get hugged and kissed every morning on most malls," he said. But not here. In Salina, he has faced roadblocks of all descriptions. Central to the mall controversy have been flood issues, the fear of competition to existing merchants, the fear that the shopping center would lance the heart of downtown and cripple an adjacent mall, and concern about the fairness of the city issuing tax-free industrial revenue bonds to fund Warmack's project. Petition drives, court challenges, zoning squabbles, a voter referendum on the industrial revenue bond question, the formation of groups to protest and support the mall—all have been part of the Central Mall saga. "It's the toughest issue I've ever dealt with in my lif e— emotionally tough," said Phil Ray, a leader and spokesman for a group called Salinans for Free Enterprise that •• was formed to oppose the issuance of industrial revenue bonds for the mall development. . The effort by Ray's group failed. On Sept. 10,1984, the Salina City Commission agreed to issue $10 million in . industrial revenue bonds to fund the Central Mall, which . is scheduled to open in late February 1987. ; The mall bond approval was part of a compromise in which the commission agreed to invest part of the city's sales tax receipts in sprucing up the central business - district. • The Central Mall at Ninth and Magnolia, where earthmoving has begun, is to be a one-story brick structure : with 50 to 60 stores. It will include three major department stores: J.C. Penney, Dillard's and Beall's. The mall, to cost an estimated $25 million, is to be splashed with natural light from skylights and will be lush ; with greenery. ! Ray said his opposition group was successful in getting Salinans to consider what could become of their downtown. That $6.5 million downtown project, to be finished this year, includes the construction of parking lots, creation of additional arcades to link Santa Fe Avenue with Fifth and Seventh streets, and the burying of utility lines that clutter the alleys behind Santa Fe stores. In some circles, the downtown and mall projects are seen as important keys in helping Salina regain its position as a regional shopping center. Although he acknowledges the increased competition local merchants will face, Salina Area Chamber of Commerce President Gerald Cook said the mall will lure a greater number of shoppers to Salina and they'll open their checkbooks not only in the mall but also in other shopping centers. "Instead of taking away from business already there it brings in more dollars to the community," Cook said of a mall. Others, including Dan West, are not so sure. West is in the process of closing West Ltd., his downtown men's store. The new mall, he explained, would have hurt his sales, which already have suffered because of the poor farm economy in Salina's rural trade territory. Ten Demy At the moment, Central Mall is but truckloads of dirt being hauled hi to feed the earthmovers. Retail "I get hugged and kissed every morning on most malls." —Ed Warmack The downtown renovation is a good step, West said, "but that's not going to save downtown." "When that mall opens it'll take 20 to 25 percent of the business out of comparison goods shopping," he said. West bases that assessment on the experience of downtown retailers at Hutchinson, where a mall was opened last year. Kevin Walker, downtown development director for the city of Hutchinson, said the spring 1985 opening of the Hutchinson Mall has added greatly to the city's retail inventory, which has diluted sales. Hardest hit are clothiers, he said. Walker added, however, that downtown merchants generally agree they are suffering»more from a poor agriculture economy than the mall competition. Phil Ray, owner of a downtown Salina uniform shop, doubts Central Mall will bring enough new dollars into town to offset the increased competition. "My concern is: How is (Central Mall) going to expand the trade territory when the state is not gaining numbers but losing numbers," he said, referring to population. A study done in 1983 by Midwest Research Institute of Kansas City and funded by Warmack stated that although retail sales increased between 1958 and 1981 in Salina, the rate of increase had slowed in recent years. "This loss of momentum may have been exacerbated by a lack of competitive shopping areas," the study suggested. But because of the Central Mall project, Ray expects to see downtown suffer as a shopping center. He expects some stores will migrate south to the malls. The J.C. Penney department store and the Brass Buckle apparel shop already have announced such plans. Other downtown stores will be closed, he said, as owners elect to retire early or "decide they can't compete." Ray hopes downtown can survive as a center offering entertainment, restaurants and specialty shops, as well as government and professional offices. Keith Duckers expects the Central Mall to help downtown evolve and survive. He is a former mayor and city commissioner who long has been a proponent of the Central Mall development. He said he has been outspoken on the subject because "I think Salina has been dead in the water the past three years.'' "Downtown America is changing," Duckers said. "No downtown that you can think of is like it was when you were a boy. I don't think it will ever be the shopping center of Salina anymore, but I think the corner of Santa Fe and Iron will always be the psychological core of the community." Offices and specialty retailing shops are the future of downtown, he said. "I don't think anybody from Beloit, Kansas, will come in with a carload of kids and spend all day shopping in downtown Sauna like they once did," he said. Warmack said it is the shoppers who determine where shopping centers are located. "We think the housewife wants the mall," he said. The seeds of the Central Mall were sown in the 1970s when Sears, Roebuck and Co., which has ajdepartment store just south of the downtown area, approached Warmack about building a suburban mall. Warmack, who also owns Sears Center, found a 114-acre undeveloped tract at Ninth and Magnolia, owned by the heirs of Emma Gebhart, and planning began. In February 1980 construction of a $30 million Central Mall was announced. Since then, Sears has reorganized its regional offices and abandoned plans to move its Sauna store to a mall. But other major department stores climbed aboard Warmack's mall bandwagon: J.C. Penney, which wants to abandon its downtown location, plus the Arkansas- based Dillard's and Texas-based Beall's, both of which want to enter the Salina market. In scrapping for permission and financial help to build the mall, Warmack was "satisfying a request made by two very successful and sophisticated retailers," said Salina attorney Frank Norton, who helped Warmack over the development hurdles. The hurdles were many. The project initially was stalled because of concern that the mall development would compound the flooding risk of south Salina. Warmack agreed to seek federal funds to improve drainage of not only his property but much of south Salina. That effort failed. Opposition also arose from downtown merchants, from the Mid-State Mall and from some city officials. The issue became a political hot potato and the controversy divided the town. A low point in the Central Mall saga, according to former Mayor Keith Duckers, was a day in the spring of 1983 when a public hearing was called to consider the appropriateness of issuing $24.5 million in industrial revenue bonds for a retail development. In an effort to swing support for the mall, Mayor Duckers invited William Dillard Sr. to town to help rally support for the bonds. Dillard, Duckers explained, is "an internationally known retailer. We were trying to win the vote... and create a feeling that, really, this was going to be a good thing for Salina." During Dillard's time at the podium, however, the opposition forces "laughed at him and shouted him down," Duckers said. "I was tremendously embarrassed." Dillard said later he wasn't aware of the controversy in Salina and didn't want to have a role in fracturing the city. At one point in the local controversy, some factions tried to force Warmack to build his mall downtown. But Norton said Warmack and his tenants were steadfast, clinging to what they saw as the law of retailing economics. They saw the problems of a downtown location as being a lack of sufficient development land, parking problems and an inefficient flow of traffic. A standoff developed, with some city commissioners insisting that local government should play an active role in deciding how Salina should be developed. Charles Roth, a retailer who was mayor in 1984 when industrial revenue bonds were approved for Warmack's development, said commissioners backed down from trying to dictate the location of a mall "when it became apparent that Salina wasn't going to get a mall at all." The compromise agreed to on Sept. 10,1984, in which the mall would be issued $10 million in industrial revenue bonds and downtown would receive $5 million in sales tax dollars for renovation, was approved on a unanimous vote of the full city commission. The commission also, for the first time, crafted a policy on issuing industrial revenue bonds. It stated that any applicant who legally could qualify for the bonds would be issued them. Commissioner Burgess, who long was opposed to the bond issue for the mall, said his position changed while he was on the commission. He initially thought the bonds should be used only for industrial development; now he sees retail trade as an industry worthy of the bonds. The six-year struggle gave Warmack government help to build his sixth mall. The five others are in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Central Mall plan has been scaled down. When announced in 1980, the mall was to be more than 500,000 square feet and cost $30 million. The size now is about 350,000 square feet and Warmack says the cost will be much lower than $30 million, although he won't name a figure. The pared project reflects, in part, the city's un(See Mall, Page S5) Ninth and Magnolia intersection is becoming city's retail hot spot Development of the Central Mall is turning south Salina into the city's retailing hot spot. Central Mall is being built on the northeast corner of Ninth and Magnolia. On the southwest corner is the Mid-State Mall, opened in 1971. Across the street is the new Skaggs Alpha Beta supermarket and general merchandise store that is to open later this month. The shopping center development is expected to make south Salina a major lure to shoppers. That has evoked both optimism and concern. Louise Appleby, manager of the Mid-State Mall, is optimistic. She figures her tenants will benefit from the increased shopper traf- fie created by Central Mall, which is sched- '• uled to open in February 1987. : Appleby said she had fielded an increasing number of inquiries from potential tenants since the site preparation for the Central Mall began last fall. "I'd much rather have a mall across the street than someplace else in town," Appleby said. Concerned are more distant merchants, including some in the downtown shopping district three miles away. Phil Ray, owner of a downtown uniform shop, said retailing centers in Salina are too scattered to be effective. The mall development has sparked some jockeying as merchants and property developers attempt to position themselves to profit from the changing marketplace. Included among those efforts are: • A migration of some merchants south. J.C. Penney, in the heart of downtown, has signed a lease to become one of three anchor tenants of the Central Mall. Another down- town business, the Brass Buckle apparel shop, is relocating to the Mid-State Mall. • The possible development of other south Salina shopping centers. Pat Bolen, president of Sunset Plaza Inc., said his company has purchased land across Ninth Street frcrn the Central Mall and is contemplating development of a strip shopping center there. • The $6.5 million renovation of downtown Salina. At the Mid-State Mall, Appleby expects the nearby Central Mall to make the shopping center she manages more appealing to merchants. Because of the loss in 1982 of an anchor tenant, Montgomery Ward, about 26 percent of the leaseable space at Mid-State is vacant. Although she acknowledges that Central Mall could lure some Mid-State tenants, Appleby sees the increased traffic at Ninth and Magnolia as creating a greater demand for Mid-State space. Ed Warmack, developer of Central Mall, said he has leases signed with three anchor tenants — the J.C. Penney, Dillard's and Beall's department stores — but won't start until spring to contract with other tenants. Opinions are divided on whether Central Mall will benefit other shopping centers. Carry Brooks, who manages the south half of Kraft Manor shopping center at Ninth and Cloud, said business there could benefit from the mall development. "We're encouraged about it," he said, explaining that Kraft Manor is the closest strip shopping center to the malls and the number of shoppers passing by likely will increase. But Dick Brown, a spokesman for Elmore Center at 645 E. Crawford, doubts merchants there will be helped by Central Mall, even though it might draw more shoppers to Salina. "My guess is the dilution effect will be considerably greater than the additional business," he said. "I know there are a lot of us not particularly happy to see increased competition." Sunset Plaza's Pat Bolen concurs. Central Mall department stores might bring additional shoppers into town, he said, "but I would have to think, to be realistic, that the backbone of their business will be Salina dollars." If so, the mall would siphon dollars from all other Salina businesses, he said. "I do not think they will draw that many people in to offset what is taken from other merchants," Bolen said. 1933-1986 Serving the agricultural needs of our customers for 53 years. Great Plains SUNFLOWER ••CMM QMMtr It BIIU t ewf Mil InmMtMll Glencoe Cwuimlkon Tllltftt TWM We have parts and service for what we sell we trade — we finance j Dauer Implement Co Highway 81 South Salina, Ks. 825-2141 «*»«t«j« —In Salina Since 1960— Edwards, we build o ss by building yours Stocks • Bonds • Mutual Funds Tax Incentive Investments • Annuities • Options Financial Planning • Investment Banking A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc. Investments Since 1887 101 United Building Salina, Kansas 67401 1-800-332-0347 825-4636 Member New York Stock Exchange, Inc. Over 270 branches In 43 states

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