Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Southridge Doesn’t Want Your Business

Its owner, Simon Property, has a history of relocating bus stops and discouraging certain kinds of customers.

By - Feb 18th, 2014 12:13 pm

These are good days for the Simon Property Group. This ever-growing mega-business is larger than all but about 60 companies in the world, with a total value or market cap of nearly $50 billion. Simon has grown earnings by 17 percent annually for the past five years, as notes, while its stock skyrocketed from $33 per share to $160 per share.

Shopping malls like Southridge are the key to that business. Simon currently owns or has an interest in more than 325 retail real estate properties in North America, Asia and Europe. Included on that list are some of the largest shopping malls in the U.S., led by Florida, where the company owns some 45 of them.

Wisconsin is a tiny part of that empire, with just five shopping malls, but Southridge, its only one in metro Milwaukee, is generating tons of bad publicity for the company. The company has a history of taking actions to discourage certain kinds of customers, often with little opposition locally, but in Milwaukee it faces a firestorm of criticism.

On November 1, Southridge moved the bus stop for the Milwaukee county bus from a location near the Sears main entrance to the edge of the mall parking lot near S. 74th St. and W. Edgerton Ave. That put the stop about 1,000 feet and across a street from the closest mall entrance, making access difficult for the disabled and elderly. As soon as the mall announced this decision, in October, the idea generated protests.

County Supervisor Patricia Jursik called on people to sign a petition opposing the move (she is still collecting signatures), and joined by protestors, met with Southridge officials but failed to budge them on the new policy.

Perhaps the most dramatic gesture of protest was a youtube video created by John Haupt, a disabled bus rider who has MS and is filmed in his wheel chair making the difficult journey from the bus stop to the mall. This got considerable coverage, including from TV news shows.

Milwaukee County officials have since referred the matter to federal authorities to determine whether the move violates civil rights law or the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported. County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren said that Assistant U.S. Attorney Lennie Lehman was reviewing the matter.

Southridge has gotten financial support from the taxpayers of Greendale, where it is located, including some $18 million in Tax Incremental Financing in 2011. The idea of a publicly-supported mall making access for certain members of the public has increased the level of outrage for Jursik and others.

That has created an uncomfortable issue for Greendale Village President John R. Hermes, who tells me the TIF agreements “contained no contractual requirements regarding transit. To my knowledge, para transit services continue to operate direct to the mall entrance, allowing both elderly and individuals with disabilities direct access.” Meanwhile, he adds, “the village has, and is continuing to attempt to facilitate discussions between the County and Simon Property Group.”

Why is the mall happy to allow paratransit services direct access to the mall, but not the regular county bus? The explanations by Simon Property’s representatives have varied.

Back in 2012 the company said the issue was “noise” caused by the bus, but Hermes said he wasn’t aware of any customers complaining about this. More recently, and in response to Jursik’s group, the company said the move was made to enhance safety. Clearly it’s now less safe for riders making the 1,000 foot trek to the mall. Does moving the bus stop make things more safe for other mall customers? If so, company officials have provided no information to back up that claim.

Simon Group has given various reasons for a similar policy in other cities. In 2007, it moved bus stops to the outer edges of large parking lots in three of its shopping malls in the Pittsburgh area “because of negative feedback from customers and retailers having to navigate through large groups of people” at mall entrances.

In 2009, in Peoria, a mall owned by Simon Properties demanded a reduction in the number of bus routes to the mall, which was cut from six to two. In that case Simon Property said it was concerned about damage to the mall.

But Tom Lucek, general manager of the CityLink bus company, offered a different explanation, telling the press that it’s company policy for Simon Properties to not allow public transportation on its privately-owned malls.

That same year, Simon Property faced a lawsuit because access for the disabled was so difficult at its Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso. It’s not clear if bus stops were moved or were from the beginning set up in a place far removed from the mall, but the impact on passengers sounds similar to what’s transpired at Southridge. “The problem is people here have to travel in the street and they’ve almost been hit by cars,” said Briana Stone with the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project.

WTMJ radio host Gene Mueller contends the Southridge issue is really just about rowdy teens, and particularly minority terms. There’s a simple solution, he writes: ‘Take a page out of the Mayfair playbook… and slap some restrictions on who can be at Southridge and when. Dictate the terms, mandate that anyone under 18 HAS to be with a parent after, say, three p.m.”

Elsewhere, Simon Properties has taken such actions. Indeed, one newspaper credited Simon with inventing this concept in the mid-1990’s with its mega Mall of America in Minneapolis “that prohibits unescorted youth and teens on Friday and Saturday evenings.”

In Boston several area malls owned by the Simon Property Group implemented a “No Swearing” policy, aimed at foul-mouthed teenagers.

And at some of its malls in Florida, Simon Property “posts notices… to warn shoppers that loitering, disorderly conduct and dress that is ‘identified as gang-related through law enforcement intelligence’ will not be tolerated.

Similarly, its Aurora mall in Colorado posts a code of conduct that doesn’t mention “gang apparel” but requires shoppers to wear “appropriate” clothing. “Apparel that may provoke a disturbance or incite violence is prohibited,” it states.

Southridge has never suggested there was any problem with rowdy teens at the mall. And if it has moved its bus stop to make life difficult for minority teens, that seems pretty silly. They will be the least troubled by the 1,000 foot trek to the mall. Meanwhile, it’s conflicting explanations and lame PR have turned even supporters like Mueller into critics, while raising many questions about the role and responsibilities of the semi-public square that malls create in America.

Neither Simon Property Group nor Southridge responded to my request for comment. Their handling of this controversy could provide an entire chapter in a book on public relations disasters.

Categories: Murphy's Law

18 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Southridge Doesn’t Want Your Business”

  1. bruf says:

    Wish I could get an audio copy of this
    for my stone blind neighbor who has
    complained bitterly about Simon’s policy
    at Southridge.

  2. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Why can’t they just be honest about this? Just bring it out into the open where we can at least have a conversation about it. “We think black kids get rowdy and cause problems” … Just say it! Whether it’s racist crap or not, at least then we can talk about addressing the issue in a positive manner.

  3. Art Hackett says:

    Simon owns Mall of America? MOA has a freaking light rail line terminating in the mall, along with a bus terminal the size of Milwaukee’s Union Station. Meanwhile the guy in the wheelchair should consider himself lucky. Some mall operators would be suing him for illegal taping on company property.

  4. Art – Simon sold their last remaining share of the mall shortly after the light rail line opened, and was a minority owner when the line opened.

  5. bruce murphy says:

    Art, Simon Property lost ownership of Mall of America in 2003.

  6. Patricia Jursik says:

    First, thanks for a good story on the bus issue and Southridge; just a small correction. My office is in the process of collecting petitions, I receive them daily, but we have not yet served them on the Southridge management. The initial meeting was to ask why the bus stop was moved. The response was due to safety. We will be serving the signed petitions on the management in the coming weeks after all have been collected. I know many are still being circulated. Patricia Jursik

  7. Thank you Mr. Murphy and Supervisor Jursik!

  8. Tom D says:

    The article quotes Greendale Village President John R. Hermes as saying “To my knowledge, para transit services continue to operate direct to the mall entrance, allowing both elderly and individuals with disabilities direct access.”

    Mr Hermes does not understand what paratransit is and how much it costs taxpayers.

    Paratransit riders must meet certain qualifications. Just being elderly or even being handicapped is not enough. You are only permitted to use paratransit if you are unable to use regular bus service. Since all buses now have wheelchair lifts or ramps, even using a wheelchair isn’t enough by itself.

    The reason transit system restrict paratransit use is because paratransit is exorbitently expensive for taxpayers. In 2012, taxpayers (county, state, and federal combined) paid $2.07 in subsidies for each regular MCTS bus rider, but $25.37 for each one-way paratransit ride.

    Every shopper who takes paratransit to the mall costs taxpayers $46 in additional subsidies (round trip). Shifting passengers from regular buses to paratransit isn’t the answer.

  9. David Ciepluch says:

    As a family, we have decided to stop shopping at Southridge Mall.

  10. sportster599 says:

    I’m sure that Simon Group is smart enough to watch what has happened to Mayfair.

  11. What has happened to Mayfair? They’re getting a Nordstrom’s?

    Sounds like they’re flailing with those bus stops on their property.

  12. David Ciepluch says:

    Brookfield Square said they will take the buses. They want more business, not less.

  13. Justin J says:

    @ Patricia Jursik

    Don’t you have bigger fish to fry, like killing the Couture?

  14. CarolV says:

    Thank you for the story – Mr. Haupt’s video shows a very real experience for people with disabilities and the obstacle this creates. The unsafe path of travel, snow issues, uphill slope and need for strength demonstrated in the video are hard to argue with related to making things less accessible. If someone were blind and traversing this route, it would be treacherous as well. I hope it doesn’t take an accident or serious injury for this bus stop to be changed back. That kind of tragedy is a very real possibility in this instance. I would hope that the DOJ may be able to show that taking away access that was previously offered would be reason enough to bring an ADA suit.

  15. David Ciepluch says:

    Planning for and involving all transportation systems and modes into a large complex from roads and walks for buses, cars, transport trucks, trains, bicycles, walkers, does take educated thought and input for a variety of sources. This maximizes the business owner opportunities as well as the customer experience, and the larger community. Comprehensive planning should also address other issues like stormwater runoff from this type of site that was not done during the 60s.

  16. Tom D says:

    After watching and mulling over the video, I had a thought regarding the downtown streetcar.

    One common anti-streetcar argument is that the initial 2.1-mile route is unneeded because that distance is “walkable”. In the video, John Haupt had trouble traveling about 1,000 feet.

    The initial streetcar line will be 11,000 feet (and 24 blocks) each way, longer than 90% of us would walk.

  17. Tom D says:

    The Southridge situation is similar to an ill-fated (and eventually fatal) bus ban at another shopping mall–the “Walden Galleria” outside Buffalo.

    From the day it opened in 1989, Walden Galleria refused to allow any regular transit buses onto its property. The nearest bus stop was mid-block and across the street–a 7-lane road with no sidewalks. Bus passengers were expected to walk along side this busy road to reach an intersection (with a traffic light, but no crosswalks or pedestrian traffic signals) where they could cross the street.

    On December 14, 1995, walking next to the road was impossible because of snowbanks, so bus passengers were forced to walk through traffic to the intersection. When Cynthia Wiggins, a 17-year-old mall employee, got off her bus, traffic was stopped for red lights down the block.

    Rather than risk walking in traffic to the corner (to cross at an intersection not designed for pedestrians, anyway), she ran across the street from the bus stop, darting through 7 lanes of stopped traffic. She made it across 6 lanes, but the light turned green before she crossed the 7th lane. She was crushed by a dump truck, and died the next month without regaining consciousness.

    Transit officials said they had tried since day one to put a bus stop at the mall, but Pyramid Companies, Walden Galleria’s owner, refused. Pyramid said regular transit buses were too heavy and would damage their roadways, but Walden Galleria accepted buses full of Canadian shoppers who crossed the border to take advantage of better exchange rates and lower American taxes.

    In the civil suit that followed, one store owner said a Pyramid executive assured him the regular city bus would be banned because it did not bring the kind of people Pyramid wanted. Most people on that bus (including Wiggins) were black.

    Pyramid said Wiggins caused her own death by “inattentiveness”, by jaywalking, and because she chose not to wait up to another 40 minutes (in freezing rain) for a shuttle that would take her across the street but still hundreds of feet from an actual mall entrance.

    The resulting lawsuit against the mall, the transit system, and the truck driver was high-profile, with Johnnie Cochran asking for $150 million in damages. The case was eventually settled for $2.55 million, including $300,000 from the publicly-owned transit system. (If somebody were hurt between the bus stop and Southridge, would MCTS be partly responsible because it stops in an unsuitable and unsafe area?)

    About a month after Wiggins died (and well before the case went to trial) but after threats of a boycott, Pyramid relented and allowed buses onto its property with a stop next to a department store entrance.

    Time Magazine ran an excellent story about this situation in its February 19, 1996, issue, but I can’t link to it because you must subscribe (or visit a library) to read it. I recommend taking the time to access Time Magazine’s article.

  18. David Ciepluch says:

    States and municipalities are granted Federal constitutional authority under the 10th Amendment to provide for the safety, health, and welfare of its citizens. These are broad police powers that include things like safety in transportation and on the streets for pedestrian traffic. There may be or should be a County or Greendale ordinance and planning that required safe passage of transit systems to and from a large business like a Mall. By these police planning powers, Greendale or Milwaukee County could require them to allow for safety of transit passengers onto their property.

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