Too little, too late Featured

9:52am EDT July 22, 2002

Where was Dick Jacobs five years ago? I can’t be the only one wondering.

Where was he when plans for the malls at Tuttle Crossing and Easton were announced and retail experts began predicting the demise of Northland Mall? Where was he 10 to 15 years ago when safety issues — including a late-afternoon assault on a 75-year old woman in the parking lot of Northland and the shooting of a teen-ager boarding a bus at the mall — began scaring away shoppers? Where was Dick Jacobs, the absentee owner of Northland Mall, when our community really needed him?

After all, the deterioration of Northland Mall has been long in coming. Sure, a new sign here, a new food court there made for nice, if short-lived, Band-Aids, but the deep, underlying gashes in the mall’s once-stellar image have never fully healed.

A new mall at Polaris won’t kill Northland — no matter how loudly or publicly Jacobs insists it will. Northland is all but dead now. Jacobs is just looking for someone else to blame for his own neglect. Herb Glimcher and his Polaris mall project have become the hapless scapegoats.

Funny how we didn’t see Jacobs storm into town and stomp his feet over the roughly $30 million in tax increment financing sought and received by Les Wexner three years ago to build public parking garages and improve roads in and around his massive Easton development. Perhaps Jacobs hesitated at the thought of taking on a man whose net worth ranks 11th in the world — despite the fact that industry insiders forecasted Easton’s success would devastate Northland.

With or without competition from Polaris, Northland’s fate as a traditional mall was all but sealed when Easton opened this summer. The aging, lackluster collection of stores located a few miles down Morse Road from Wexner’s new crown jewel just can’t compare with the glitzy shopping and entertainment combo at Easton.

If Dick Jacobs really cares about the Northland community, he ought to quit fighting this ridiculous media battle with Glimcher and turn his attention to finding a new use for Northland Mall. Glimcher has already proposed some plausible ideas — and even offered to finance them — but Jacobs prefers to play the stick-in-the-mud role.

His inflexibility should be alarming to the residents and businesses of the Northland area. They’re the ones who will truly suffer if Northland Mall is reduced to empty, boarded up storefronts and a vacant, weed-strewn parking lot — simply because Jacobs insisted on going down with the ship instead of steering it onto a better course.

There are plenty of alternative uses for a sizable chunk of real estate like Northland Mall, which also happens to be located near a major highway. Glimcher has mentioned a hotel and conference center or a Lenox Town Center-type development.

Both are fine ideas. Both have the potential to be lucrative investments. Both are better than a last-ditch effort to “save” Northland Mall with an overpriced facelift. Northland Mall is much farther gone than that. The writing has been on the wall for years. Dick Jacobs just chose to ignore it and now it’s too late. Shame on him. The Northland area deserves better than that.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.