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Washington Square Mall loses 2 anchors but new owners still see opportunities

The focus now is trying to fix all the negatives and re-brand.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Washington Square Mall was once the place to be but it's been on the downturn for several years, losing most of its key anchor stores. This month it loses two more. Dick's Sporting Goods last day at the mall is Jan. 5. The Burlington Coat Factory closes Jan. 24.

That has many wondering how much longer the mall, which opened in 1974, can survive. The new owners hope indefinitely but acknowledge they face a number of challenges.

"Losing two anchor stores of that magnitude, yes, it will hurt," Property Manager Keith Lee said.

Lee works for Durga Property, LLC, the Cincinnati company that bought the mall in September.

Lee said when he first saw it, "I looked at my partners and said why would we buy a closed mall?"

That's because he saw it at night and many of the outside lights weren't working. They had been vandalized.

Occupancy was down and theft was up.

Lee had his hands full.

His focus now is trying to fix all the negatives and re-brand.

Jerry Jones, who walks the mall nearly every day said he's noticed some changes over the last few months.

"They're keeping it clean," Jones said. "Security is good, very good."

They've added temporary lights in the parking lot to keep it lit at night and have begun improving the interior lights. Lee said they've gone from one security guard to eight.

They also started a new policy: no children under 18 allowed at the mall unless accompanied by a parent or a guardian.

Lee said it was implemented to deter large groups of teens congregating inside.

"Safety has to be first," Lee said. "If I can't have people come to the mall and feel safe that's a problem."

Lee said 62 of the 80 storefronts are full. He said he's determined to draw new tenants while holding on to key retailers like Target. A shopper stopped Lee to let him know "it really looks better." He said they were working hard to "get it back."

Nicole Gates said after outgrowing her original space at the mall, she moved into twice as big.

"We're growing," Gates said. "We've grown from the last year so I think things are improving."

Asked if he worried about the mall's future, Lee said, "The plan is to survive. I plan to be here every day until it's properly staffed and managed as well as filling every vacancy."

But he also cautioned it would take time and money and that they were committed to getting the job done.