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Erik Fjeseth, mall manager at Springfield's Battlefield Mall since June 2008, pursued a career in retail sales and mall management because he was unable to find a job to fit his degree in environmental science. The mall was built in 1970 and expanded to its current 1.2 million square feet in 2006.
Erik Fjeseth, mall manager at Springfield's Battlefield Mall since June 2008, pursued a career in retail sales and mall management because he was unable to find a job to fit his degree in environmental science. The mall was built in 1970 and expanded to its current 1.2 million square feet in 2006.

Business Spotlight: Retail Central

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The 78 acres today occupied by Battlefield Mall may be fine for a regional shopping center, but before Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc. decided to build there 40 years ago, it wasn’t much more than a swamp.

“We used to hunt ducks out in that area,” says Springfield native John Sellars, executive director of the Springfield-Greene County History Museum. “It wasn’t even farmland. It was kind of a wetland area with scrub and brush and Osage orange trees.”

But the wetland that became a mall transformed the city. Springfield development already had started a shift toward the south, and the construction of the mall in 1970 accelerated the move.

“It was a totally different mall than what you see today,” Sellars says, recalling locally owned tenants such as Barth’s, Town & County and Heer’s. “The stores moved from downtown or built an annex. As those stores died off downtown, they started moving out of the mall and the mall got more national chains.”

Today, Battlefield Mall comprises 1.2 million square feet – 10 percent of all retail space in Springfield – and is home to 149 tenants employing roughly 2,000 personnel. With anchors Macy’s, Dillard’s, JC Penney and Sears, and outdoor lifestyle stores Banana Republic, White House Black Market and Ethan Allen, the center draws shoppers from a 90-mile radius of Springfield.

To complement the retail stalwarts – JC Penney and Dillard’s have been tenants since the mall’s opening – mall officials continually seek new, and sometimes entrepreneurial, retailers.
Manager Erik Fjeseth said 10 stores opened in Battlefield Mall during 2010, and another, women’s intimate apparel retailer Soma, is under contract to open its doors in the first quarter next year. “By my estimate, I think that’s pretty good,” Fjeseth says.

Most recently, Stonesmith Jewelry, Neighborhood News convenience store and Greek in the Box restaurant opened in November.

“At the core of what we do – we rent space, retail space,” says Fjeseth, who succeeded Rob Rector as mall manager in June 2008, when Rector took an administrative post at Ozarks Technical Community College. Before that, Fjeseth managed malls in Lafayette and Kokomo, Ind.

According to commercial real estate tracker Xceligent, there was 12.1 million square feet of retail space on the market in the third quarter in Springfield. Xceligent also reported 10,604 square feet, or 1 percent, of third-quarter vacant space in the regional retail center category, for which Battlefield Mall is the lone center.

While Fjeseth declined to disclose Battlefield Mall’s lease rates, he did say there is flexibility when it comes to leasing space.

Mall promotions and changes are in response to shoppers’ demands, he adds. For example, the mall opened at midnight Thanksgiving for Black Friday, which led to one of its busiest days, Fjeseth says. “It definitely got things off to an exciting start,” he says.

On a larger scale, physical alterations have materialized out of retail industry trends.

About 12 years after opening, the mall doubled in size, largely due to Sears moving in from its St. Louis Street location. The expansion also brought the mall its first food court and a six-screen cinema. Both the cinema and a single-screen theater later closed.

In 1993, renovations included new floors and amenities, cosmetic changes to the entrances and an expansion of Sears.

Four years ago, the mall renovated its interior and added lifestyle center stores with exterior entrances on the east side. Stores with façades facing Glenstone Avenue include Coldwater Creek, Anne Taylor Loft and Jos. A. Bank.

Battlefield Mall is among 393 retail properties owned by Simon Property Group (NYSE: SPG), which manages 264 million square feet in North America, Europe and Asia. The company has grown its revenues the last decade to $3.8 billion in 2009 from $1.9 billion in 1999. During that same 10-year span, the company’s stock price climbed to $79.80 from $22.94, according to Simon’s 2009 annual report. Simon shares close Dec. 15 at $95.28, compared to a 52-week range of $68.76 to $97.43.[[In-content Ad]]

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