David Kruger's Commentary

User submitted February 28, 2012

Mall of the Bluffs, a regional indoor mall for Council Bluffs and Southwest Iowa, opened its doors in 1986. Original anchors were J.C.Penney (far west end), Target (northeast end), and Dillards (south end). Sears was eventually added as an anchor on the far east end of the mall. Like many Midwest malls opened in the 1970s and 1980s, Mall of the Bluffs was developed by Iowa-based General Growth Properties, and features an expansive food court centered in the front of the mall, typical of General Growth’s other single-level regional malls in Iowa, Missouri, and the Dakotas.

When Mall of the Bluffs opened, it became Council Bluffs' first regional indoor mall, far superior to its closest competitor, the aging Southroads Mall in Bellevue/South Omaha. Mall of the Bluffs was also unique in that it was the only Omaha area mall not anchored by a Younkers department store (though Younkers has since pulled out of Omaha’s Southroads and Crossroads).

The first twenty years of Mall of the Bluffs were quite prosperous, with its parking lot along I-80 consistently filled with cars, making its Madison Avenue exit a busy boulevard. The mall’s decline, however, sharply began in 2008, not from crime or blight, but the development of competing outdoor retail centers and the failure of General Growth to keep Mall of the Bluffs anchors from relocating to them. Although General Growth was able to secure Barnes and Noble as a tenant and allow Target to thoroughly remodel its location, it lost J.C.Penney in 2008 to the open air Marketplace just down I-80 on 24th. One year later, Target abruptly abandoned their newly remodeled location for a completely new store at Metro Crossing, two miles south along I-29. While Dillards has not closed their Mall of the Bluffs store, their continued presence is worse, as the location has now become a limited hours dumping ground for crappy clearance merchandise and close-out sales. Sears, the newest and (ironically) nicest anchor left in the mall, announced in February 2012 that they have sold their location back to General Growth, and will permanently shut down in 2013.

Sadly, as it plods toward a slow, painful death, Mall of the Bluffs still has decent national chains and specialty shops lining its corridors and remains very clean inside and out, though some of its late-80s décor (particularly its logo) is clearly outdated, along with the brown brick and dark tinted windows that pervade the mall’s exterior. While I welcome the wrecking ball death of dangerous blighted malls like Southridge in Des Moines, I hate to see Mall of the Bluffs go out like this. It's death seems way too soon. But the mall has now reached the tipping point where it can no longer be redeemed as a viable or even remotely cool place to shop. The fact that General Growth bought out the Sears location means that they will no doubt release Dillards from its misery, clear out all the interior tenants that remain, and demolish the entire mall. Barnes and Noble may be stuck amidst the forthcoming rubble due to their lease. The true shame, however, is that the outdoor centers that brought about the demise of Mall of the Bluffs will also choke the life out of any retail development that replaces it.

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