The Carson's department store chain, a staple of Region life for decades, is winding down in bankruptcy court and will shutter all locations in the next few weeks, including at Southlake Mall in Hobart, the Marquette Mall in Michigan City and at what was the Woodmar Mall in Hammond.
The three-story department store at 6600 Indianapolis Blvd. in Hammond is all that's left of Woodmar, the Victor Gruen-designed indoor mall at Indianapolis and 165th Street that was a major shopping destination between 1954 and 2006, when it was mostly demolished, save for the Carson's. Now the department store may get razed too, to make room for redevelopment associated with the city's new sportsplex.
"The first question we have to answer is whether the building stays or not," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said.
The city of Hammond owns the department store building, which it had been renting to Carson's at a discounted rate in the hope of keeping the retailer in the city. But a bid to save the troubled parent company The Bon-Ton Stores fell short in April, resulting in the closure of 260 stores and the layoffs of 20,000 workers nationwide.
"People are sad to see Carson's go," McDermott said. "My wife shopped there, we got a lot of Christmas presents from there. It has a big selection, 95 percent of what you needed. People came from Cal City, East Chicago, Gary, north of Ridge Road. It's a big loss for the community."
McDermott said he's focused for now on getting the city's new $17 million sportsplex open by the end of August or early September, but the city will need to figure out what to do with the department store property once the store closes.
At least one potential developer has pitched a proposal to repurpose the building, but it's not clear how viable that project is, McDermott said.
He said it's unlikely another department store would replace Carson's at a time when nearly all the major department store chains such as Macy's and Sears have been shrinking while under pressure from online competitors and discount big-box stores. But McDermott said it potentially could be a good fit for a sporting goods store since the youth sports participants in the neighboring sportsplex would make ideal customers.
Hammond also would be interested in a hotel and restaurants for the families of the travel leagues that will play there, McDermott said. Hammond has half a dozen hotels along the Borman, including a brand new Holiday Inn Express, but one next to the sportsplex would be most convenient for the teams with games there.
"We haven't decided conclusively and are not in a big hurry, but we're thinking about what a hotel could do there," he said. "Hopefully, once the sportsplex is open, it will be too good an opportunity for developers to pass up."
McDermott said prepping the site for redevelopment, by tearing down the building and installing utilities, would potentially be costly, likely running at least $250,000. But it may also be the only way to bring in new businesses.
"It might be more realistic," he said. "A developer might want to use the entire footprint, to have something like the Shops on Main in Schererville, a little neighborhood with roads."
The development of the 135,000-square-foot sportsplex, which includes six basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, two regulation-size indoor soccer fields, six batting cages and a track, puts Hammond in a much better position to weather the loss of Carson's, the mayor said.
"Really, if the decision to liquidate had come three years earlier, there might be more concern and worrying about the future," McDermott said. "There's sadness, but people see it's headed in the right direction. The sportsplex is going to be a game changer."