A really happy New Year for the middle of Middle America shoppers.
The Columbia Mall is not closing. Despite Columbia’s own “Rumor Control Central,” it is not the mall that is in financial trouble, it is the parent company, General Growth Properties Inc. headquartered in Chicago, which is having the problems. Our mall is making money.
As the second largest owner of retail malls in the United States, General Growth Properties is feeling the effects of the fiscal crisis. The company's Las Vegas properties are on the selling block. There is money owed and loans due. But mid-Missouri will retain its one and only major covered shopping extravaganza.
I started to hear the rumors in October when colleagues, friends and customers asked when the mall would be closing. Because I worked at MC Sports (my last day was Saturday ), I am supposed to know these things. I did not, so I dug. Speaking to Janet Henderson, the general manager of the Columbia Mall, I was assured that the keystone of the City of Columbia’s revenue is viable and will remain.
“There is no truth to those statements,” she told me . “Regardless of what happens, the mall will continue to function.”
I certainly hope so, not only for the city’s sake, but for the state of Missouri. Five of General Growth Properties’ more than 200 properties are located in Missouri; the Columbia Mall, Capital Mall in Jefferson City, Northwest Plaza in St. Ann, Branson Landing in Branson and the Galleria in St. Louis. Four of the five are doing quite well and the fifth is not doing that bad.
The problem with rumors is that they achieve a life of their own. Rumors and stories grow exponentially as they move from ear to ear. Like playing the game “Telephone” where a “secret” is whispered to one person and then another and another through a circle. The story takes on the embellishments and justifications of each person along the way. Take, for example, Dick’s Sporting Goods delayed and long anticipated opening.
The rumor was that Dick’s would not open because of the economy. Now people from Dick’s did not return my telephone calls, but there appears bad information here too. I talked to John Sudduth, building regulations supervisor for Columbia’s Protective Inspection Division. The answer for the delay is simple. It is not construction problems or apparent financial difficulties. Dick’s general contractor has not filed for the final inspection. That’s it. The finishes on a newly built store appears to be the only reason for the delay in opening.
However, life has not been that good for too many Boone County residences. There have been layoffs and “down sizing” – I hate weasel words for being fired. The good news is that Columbia and Boone County are somewhat isolated from the big city economic woes. Even the locally owned banks seem to be escaping the financial devastation.
There is one thing that is not a rumor – Columbia is not a manufacturing friendly town. Columbia likes white collar jobs, not blue-collar ones. We don’t even hire locally for construction or consulting. More than one business owner has told me without qualms, that Columbia may not be able to survive unless there is an infrastructure immediately to support new non-retail and service industries.
Here is a New Year’s resolution for Columbia, Ashland and Boone County elected officials: Cooperate.
Purchase the land between the Columbia Regional Airport and U.S. 63 and develop it as an “industrial friendly zone.” Columbia and Boone County have advantages over many other municipalities: major highway connections north and south/east and west; an airport with on-time and reliable service from a major carrier; universities and colleges in Boone and surrounding counties, a small town environment within reach of major metropolitan areas and; a workforce that is stable, reliable and available.
No more rumors! Let’s start 2009 with a real vision to increase our economic base with something other than retail, finances, education and health care. If Mexico Mo., can do it, so can Columbia.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.