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Once a source of pride, mall now just a bone being fought over

updated: 12/5/2018 1:18 PM

It's funny how things change over time -- sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

The latter is the case regarding the Illinois Star Centre Mall.

I remember how excited Marion was to see the mall open in 1990, thanks to the money spent and foresight shown by developer Edward J. DeBartolo -- the same guy who owned the San Francisco 49ers.

When the mall opened for business on the far west end of Marion, it featured more than 60 stores, including four anchor stores in Dillard's, Target, Phar-Mor and Sears.

I don't know how many times I have heard former Marion Mayor Bob Butler say that the building of the mall spurred enormous economic growth on his city's west end, growth that continues today.

Without the mall, he said, there may never have been a super Walmart or The Hill properties, which now houses the Southern Illinois Miners, 17th Street BBQ and dozens of restaurants, hotels and banks.

Fast forward 27 years and fewer than 10 stores remain open today at the Illinois Star Centre Mall. All will close within the next few days.

Phar-Mor moved out two years after it moved in. Sears closed its doors just this year. Only Dillard's and Target remain. They aren't going anywhere as they own their buildings.

DeBartolo sold the mall in 1996. The mall peaked at 60 percent occupancy in 2000, but gradually lost business and shoppers along with it.

The mall's new ownership has made plans to close the failing shopping center and even began serving eviction notices to what was left of its clientele last week. They have also filed for bankruptcy.

Moreover, the mall's owners, who have unsuccessfully tried to sell the facility, have now brought suit against the city of Marion, alleging that the city has unfairly overtaxed the property.

The city sold bonds to help pay for infrastructure costs when the mall was in the process of being built. A tax was created to help pay off that bond indebtedness.

The city maintains that the mall was not overtaxed. And when mall owners failed to pay the tax they say they no longer owe, the city placed a lien on the property.

The matter will eventually get resolved in court, but what a messy way to end a once-solid relationship. The next big question is what will become of the property?

Will the city take over ownership and try to lure a new industry to the region? Is there another investor or investors with deep pockets who believe the mall could be resurrected and make money if operated differently?

It should be interesting to see how it all plays out in the months ahead.