Mel Simon: a self-made man

Dateline: Wed 16 Sep 2009

Indianapolis Biz Journal and the Indy Star report that Mel Simon has died.

He was 82 years old and had been battling pancreatic cancer for some time at a hospice.

The mall tycoon and philanthropist came from humble origins -- he sold pots and pans and encyclopedias to make extra money in Indy, where he was stationed with the U.S. Army at the Fort Ben finance center. He was originally from New York City.

The Star reports that after he and his brother Herb formed their shopping mall development partnership, it was not uncommon to see them shoveling snow outside their offices.

With such a sterling legacy in so many regards, one wonders why the Simon company kept such a tight lid on Mr. Simon's illness -- refusing to confirm reports that he was ill.

The Simons are big players in Indy and nationwide.  Their many endeavors here include ownership of the Pacers, a basketball team which has seen better times and is hard-pressed to run its own affairs.

One has to wonder what the fallout from this death will be for Indy.

Comments

news junkie [Member] said:

The Simons were always a very closed mouth operation. That's why it so surprised people when the company went public. Even when public, the company played everything close to the vest. In reading an AP obit on Mel, there was this...

begin excerpt
Simon's time as a Hollywood movie producer was marred when his daughter, Deborah, was kidnapped in 1981 from outside her parents' Beverly Hills mansion. The 25-year-old escaped unharmed the next day and police arrested the gunman who apparently picked her at random and then demanded a $500,000 ransom.
end excerpt

... That has always made me wonder if that was why the family was so private. I do think the Simons really dislike the media, though, and that was pretty much the culture within the company.

2009-09-16 17:11:58

Susan [unverified] said:

RIP, Mel Simon, and now Myles Brand is gone as well.

2009-09-16 21:28:11

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

At a politicla event, I once asked Mel Simon if he liked being a public company . He repliled in typical business-like fashion, that the public status helped them raise more capital and made them bigger.

But then he winked and said: "It's like taking a shower on Monument Circle."

Translation: he liked the non-public days, when he had more freedom. But he was tremendously proud of his son, David, who's taken the company to new heights.

Today, in a troubled industry, Simon remains the gold standard. They're healthy because they're smart.

And no, they never really liked the media all that much. But they respected their task.

2009-09-17 07:14:20

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Simon is not a nice employer. David is notorious for his yelling, bullying management style. Maybe this is one reason why the company is media shy. The Simon legacy is not least an NBA team and arena that reportedly needs more tax dollars-- $15 million-- to keep playing.

Mel and Herb certainly bootstrapped themselves into the big money category and you can respect them for that. I recall their first property was a strip mall on Michigan Road and I think 72nd street.

2009-09-17 07:44:22

StarStruck [unverified] said:

Gold standard huh? Anyone care to take a field trip to Washington Square Mall? The Simons put their money into Castleton and Greenwood, not the lowly Eastside mall which is going the way of Lafayette Square. Yeah, "smart," more money in their pockets if they don't take care of their holdings.

2009-09-17 08:44:35

hendy [Member] said:

Strip malls as a business model worked in an era where we all thought the price of gas would always be under $1/gal. Now, accessibility thru mass transportation is nigh impossible, and malls blight the landscape.

The Simons were good at getting deals done. For this, they can be praised. As visionaries, their headquarters, across from the State House, was essentially given to them. So was the fieldhouse. Those components were a leach on taxpayers and great reasons that public/private business partnerships ought to be illegal. Tax abatements, free land, and other dole robbed Indianapolis of money it sorely needed for basic infrastructure, like good sewers, roads, and schools. Fie.

2009-09-17 08:58:28

Citizen X [unverified] said:

did anyone notice the star turned off the comments for both the Simon and Brand articles?

2009-09-17 09:09:38

B2 [unverified] said:

Yeah, Hendy, never mind all those jobs the Simons have created, which in turn create payroll taxes, which in turn fund roads, sewers, schools,infrastructure, etc.

2009-09-17 10:06:45

StarStruck [unverified] said:

Hendy:
You missed my point. They poured money into OTHER malls, just not WSM. I don't see any "blight" around Castleton or Greenwood. If the Simons were "so good at getting deals done," they should have sold WSM to someone who would actually improve it. What's the point of hanging on to a nonperforming mall? Oh yeah, tax write-off.

2009-09-17 10:12:28

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

StarStruck: I have been involved in retail property for three decades. The Simons didn't abandon Washington Square--the customers and retailers did. In droves. Demographics shifted. It happens. If you don't understand that, you don't understand basic market-driven retail economics.

Retailers complained for at least a decade, and demanded rent concessions, which Simon, in some form, probably granted.

In 60s-style malls, this is a national trend. For a long time, retailers, regardless of lease terms, have employed slick lawyers and negotiators to get rent concessions where their sales suffer. Simon knows how their sales go, because almost all mall tenants are obligated to report their sales, and pay additional rent above sales thresholds.

It's a vicious cycle--did you ever try to get something from the weekly ad, at WS Lazarus or Ayres? Often, WS and Laf. Sq. wouldn't have all the items other stores did. Retailers didn't ship as much merch to some stores, because it didn't sell...and customers stopped going because they didn't have the merch. Chicken or egg? Who the hell knows? Same results!

WS stopped making money long before Simon got out. They lost millions on it before they sold. Ditto Laf.Sq and others in Ft Wayne and elsewhere.

They're not obligated to gaurantee their successor owner's management style. How naive can you be? And tax write-offs...man you really don't understand modern-day REIT and IRS tax structures.

Yes, Simon is the gold standard--yesterday and still. Ask anyone in the business.

David's rumored management style notwithstanding, their philanthropy and commitment to community cannot be legitimately questioned.

Hendy--neither the fieldhouse or their new HQ were "given" to them. Incentives which cost much less than the Lilly incentives, were extended to keep a major company downtown. I wouldn't have done it, but it was a true accomplishment to keep them downtown.

2009-09-17 11:05:31

hendy [Member] said:

The incentives given to various Simon enterprises seemed to do things like add stature and jobs. The tax abatements meant that important revenue was denied, while others paid instead of the Simon's enterprises (including the asset value of the land of their headquarters).

Lilly incentives are wrong, too. In fact, to get a level playing field, all of them ought to be denied and everyone needs to tote-- without exception. It only works if that happens.

The Pacers, like the Colts, ARE ENTERTAINMENT. We underwrite entertainment at the cost of decent funding for IPS, for much needed city infrastructure, for decent wages for teachers and public safety employees (AND THEIR PENSIONS!!!!!).

Let the for-profits profit but not from subsidies from tax dollars. That's not quality of life; that's benefiting a group of shareholders in REITs. Bah. There's no justice in that.

2009-09-17 11:29:34

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Well, I and my 401k are shareholders of Simon, so I want them to profit, albeit responsibly.

Entertainment, in some form, can be a worthwhile function of government, if it justifiably adds to the Quality of Life and therefore attracts/retains more employers. That concept is and has been viable for a long time. The real test is "how much?"

Abatements do shift burden to other taxpayers. No question about it. It is not an exact science. This city has used it too much in the past, for questionable undertakings.

The state put pull-backs into its package for the UA Maintenance facility, and still, United left.

If my government is negotiating with these companies from a polite position of strength, we'll all be fine. But that's the rub. I am familiar with the city administration's negotiators. Not a stellar group of geniuses. And that's putting it mildly.

Bart Peterson is loathed by the far right and BlogWorld, but he came from the business community, and his administration had the respect of CEOs instantly.

Has the city made some bad decisions? Yep. Simon's HQ wasn't one of them.

2009-09-17 12:58:31

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Oh yeah, I didn't say this ealiler, and should have:

I bash The Star for its lazy coverage. But the front page, with Simon/Brand banners, and multiple stories inside--was brilliantly-done. Some fine work.

I realize Advance Obit Copy is written and filed away, on multiple local personalities. But this was still very well put-together.

It sorta makes you want that good reporting all the time, doesn't it?

2009-09-17 13:01:41

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

The Star has become a master of fancy banners, wrapping and glitter. The Gannett graphical touch glistens. Not sure the actual dietary value in most cases is much more than a fallout shelter Twinkie, however. The fancy packaging all too often conceals average and shallow work and the bruises of having its ass kicked by other media outlets.

But to Star reporters it's not news until the Star reports it. If the news business is like a boxing match, the Star has become not a boxer but the big-breasted bimbo in the day-glo bikini who struts across the ring between rounds, carrying the big "Round No. 3" sign. Jiggle all you want but even us booger-picking average Hoosiers are on to you.

2009-09-17 18:21:32

Todd [unverified] said:

IPS Funding Myth

Hendy-"We underwrite entertainment at the cost of decent funding for IPS,..."

Actually, money isn't the problem with IPS. It's very well funded vs. most school districts in Indiana. Throwing more money at IPS wouldn't change what creates it's problems. The problems in IPS largely come from poverty, poor family conditions, lack of parental involvement in the schools/at home, etc.

2009-09-17 18:57:06

Todd [unverified] said:

IPS Funding Myth

Hendy-"We underwrite entertainment at the cost of decent funding for IPS,..."

Actually, money isn't the problem with IPS. It's very well funded vs. most school districts in Indiana. Throwing more money at IPS wouldn't change what creates it's problems. The problems in IPS largely come from student family poverty, poor family conditions, lack of parental involvement in the schools/at home, etc.

2009-09-17 18:58:26

hendy [Member] said:

Although a direct correlation is difficult to see, let me explain:

IPS has funding that's higher than some districts. But Central Township has many tax-exempt entities. Property tax funding and federal money is what funds, along with grants from various places.

IPS had aging facilities, a partial result of white flight to the suburbs in the 70's and 80's. The tax base then had to fund students that had little income. Parents often receive low wages, and both parents work; a side effect of this what you see as a result-- parents not home, single parenting, and so on. The poverty level grew in Center Twp. The results were students that needed to be fed, and parents that often had to use IPS as a babysitter instead of an educational institution.

Now let's take a look at the sales tax surcharges that fund the Conseco Field House, MSA (RIP), and the LOS (home of the Colts). Yes these facilities generate dollars, and some of those dollars filter down-- but they're used for facility costs, extravagant player expenses, public safety, and so on. None of the food tax dollars go to schools where decent teachers and facilities are desperately needed. Dr White, whether you like him or not, can only do so much to improve things without hiring and retaining excellent teachers and instilling discipline.

Those properties also sit on land that could be producing their fair share of tax revenues in other ways, too. Add the biggest 'downtown' (e.g. Center Twp) employers together, and they're getting very sweet tax deals. Very sweet. And very unfair as property owners see their taxes double and their real estate values crash.

Inequities in property tax funding are another issue. In this context, the death of the head of the Simon brigade, what we have are some really sweet deals that were partially paid for on the backs of working people in Marion (and surrounding) counties.

We ought to be putting the funds into level per-child funding. Don't tell me for a second that Carmel kids get the same funding that Shortridge kids do. There are so many taxing districts in Marion County that it's criminal.

The Simons-- and the Lilly's (in a different way) leech from the taxpayers of Marion County. You just let them get away with it. If Hoosiers were smart, they'd never take another flight on United AIrlines, too-- still another story of criminal tax evasion, IMHO.

2009-09-17 20:20:30

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Ouch, Hendy....leech? A bit harsh. Your point is well-taken, but a huge stretch to "leech."

School funding is a separate issue, and drastically needs addressed. The legislature, in its infinite part-time wisdom, has shifted the burden for much of the program money, to the state, away from local property taxes--ALLEGEDLY. Just wait. This drama will get ugly.

And one more time for the love of God...nothing is ever made plural by adding an apostrophe (Lillys).


2009-09-18 05:47:14

Seneca [unverified] said:

Speaking of taxpayer welfare . . .

How much corporate (taxpayer) welfare will Lilly be returning to the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana as a result of its downsizing?

I'll bet none. Zero.

2009-09-18 07:34:47

cranky [unverified] said:

How did we go from an obit to IPS Funding? Thank you "Tell the Truth" and Todd for your comments, especially regarding real estate in the retail sector.
IPS is over-funded and top-heavy with administration. IPS teachers graduate from the same universities as teachers in other school districts.
The typical IPS parent may or may not be working. The norm is an unmarried mother with a live-in boyfriend or a grandparent raising the child. I know. I had one kid graduate from IPS. I do not know Carmel, but I know that the city Catholic schools educate children for about 1/2 the IPS per capita funding. Further, the Catholic school facilities aren't much better than IPS. However, the results are!

2009-09-18 10:20:25

Seneca [unverified] said:

"How did we go from an obit to IPS Funding?"

Segue. Lots of 'em.

2009-09-18 11:17:53

hendy [Member] said:

TTT-- "Lilly's" is both possessive and plural in my case. We have Lillys, the heirs, Lilly's the possessive aggregation, and Lillys as in the Lilly Foundation-- a shadow government that controls 501c3's in the area. They're in fear of their funding; they never say a harrowing word about them. Such are the nature of the New Principalities-- the Fat Trust Funds.

Leeches? Yes-- until they pay their fair share. The 501c3 and c6s are the same, as are the trusts, and the foundations, and the other tax dodges. Bah. They want services, like public safety, yet they pay naught. Double bah.

I guess to ice my thoughts on IPS, I'm a product of it. It was a different world nearly four decades later. I knew people on the IPS board that tried to change it, and watched them hit the wall time and time again. The infrastructure's crumbling, just like the rest of the core city. Sure, the mall and the stadiums and convention center are looking good, along with the state government pieces. We have overcapacity in hotels (including the huge Marriott going up) and will suffer because of that. And the rest is crumbling. Look at the CC building, the City Market, the crater where MSA once stood. Look at the glorious monument to the Indianapolis Library Board at the end of the mall above the US Federal Courts Building. It's all around. It's insane. These are grown adults that need to be spanked. The future generation coming out of IPS isn't ready and is so very bad, statistically speaking. I say: consolidate the Twp schools, and maybe include Carmel and Fishers into one large system. Then let's see who gets what.

2009-09-18 20:18:27

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

IPS still is in trouble, as evidenced by the superintendent's arrogant answer recently to a reasonable request for information on its budget from a board member!

Let's get the county-wide schools consolidation (that was nixed by Lugar back in the '60s) underway. His way may have mollified his critics, but it did NOT work out best for the kids of Marion County!

2009-09-18 21:48:01

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Hendy, it's still hard to use the L word, but I get your point.

I knew people on the IPS board too, who stood idly by and watched the system disintegrate before their eyes. One was named Dick Lugar. The decline began then. Big-time.

And, to harken back to my Journalism Grammar class taught by one Ms. Hollay Arpan, if you meant Lilly's (sic) to be plural possessive, it would correctly be: "Lillys' ". (s apostrophe). If you ever need confirmation of such mind-numbing grammar, you could consult Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," or the AP Stylebook. The way you typed it, twice, it was possessive by one of the Lillys. Singular possessive.


2009-09-19 15:03:18

hendy [Member] said:

Disintegrate made me laugh. Dillin found the direct opposite-- segregation. It was, I believe, Dr Pat Welch that took the lead on the IPS school board to turn the segregated system into an integrated one by working out a deal with Dillin to bus the twps. I knew her well.

The 'Non Partisans for Better Schools' won the ticket after Lugar jumped to Mayor. We got Unigov and suffer from the double standard to this day. When "neighborhood schools" (a mantra for 'no darkies in my kid's school') was defeated (it was a mantra of Dan Burton's) the scared whiteys fled to Carmel, Brownsburg, Danville, Fishers, Greenfield, Johnson County, and so on. Unigov was, and is a disaster for so many reasons. It was a shortcut that cuts Marion County to this day.

Lugar could have dealt with the segregation-- but he didn't. It was subsequent regimes that took on the big job-- and watched the system fall to white-flight and loss of tax base. I watched it. By 1973, I had to leave and didn't return to Marion County for nearly a decade.

The 'good buddy' government system in Central Indiana is a travesty, but it's not the only one. I know we've made progress, but it's hard to see some days. A friend of mine claims that Indiana is the northern-most Southern State-- damn the geography. I believe on many days, he's right. And given that except for Central Indiana, almost every other large city in the state is part of another state's larger metropolitan area, it's going to be disjointed like this for a long time.

2009-09-19 20:59:18

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Ruthie dear, it never ceases to amaze me how many people rewrite history regarding Judge Dillon's order.

2009-09-21 10:24:08

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