The plight of the Yankton Mall, a persistent topic of conversation here for years, seems more pressing now than ever.

That’s what we see today when we look at the place, which is a nearly empty shell of what it was back in the 1980s.  

One thing we don’t really see, however, is any sense of urgency from the mall’s ownership to change anything.

First, to be fair, the online retail age has created a paradigm shift in shopping habits everywhere, and brick-and-mortar stores are struggling with that drastic alteration. Some are finding ways to adjust to it; others are still searching for answers. Yankton’s mall is feeling the brunt of this lately, with the announced closures of both JC Penney and Payless ShoeSource. Both moves were dictated by national designs, not really by local results. Nevertheless, those are two more blows to the local mall and the overall Yankton market.

However, it’s also true that the owner of the Yankton Mall, Dial Properties in Omaha, Nebraska, has seemingly shown little interest in changing or adjusting to the times or the problems. If you ask the company about it, a spokesperson might give you an answer, as someone from Dial did for a series of stories on the Yankton Mall published Saturday and Monday in this newspaper; in that case, it was a standard statement that the company remains “positive” about the future. But it’s also possible the company may not answer you at all, which is something we’ve heard entities complain about for several years. That doesn’t exactly cultivate much local faith.

Occasionally, the company does lay out enticing proposals that are exciting to contemplate. About eight years ago, there were designs unveiled of a major facelift of the facility. But nothing was heard from it again as discussions with the city over possible tax help went nowhere. Plans were brought up again recently with the city to provide some help with the aid of private investment, but this seems to be stuck in the slow lane.

Meanwhile, the mall loses businesses — the Aaron’s rental center was the latest casualty, just last week — with no sign of any constructive response to address the trend.

A notable exception has been the move by Dunham’s to the north end of the mall last year. It was a terrific step forward for the shopping center. Also, the recent refurbishing of the movie theatres, which changed ownership, was also a needed move in the right direction.

But these items seem like outliers. Meanwhile, the public is given periodic statements that talks are under way with possible tenants — but this is something, frankly, that’s been mentioned for years.

So, it’s hard for many of us to imagine the Yankton Mall as anything more than a tax write-off for Dial. We’d really love to be wrong on this, but it needs to be proven by actions, not by words.

The real “victims” in this are the Yankton community — which is seeing a potential economic centerpiece instead functioning as a retail black hole of missed opportunity — and the mall tenants, who are working hard to make a go of it. In particular, they are being hurt most of all by the indifferent management of this facility by the owners.

Clearly, Dial at long last needs to step up.

There is a lot of local skepticism about the firm, so Dial needs to prove us wrong. It needs to show Yankton that it is genuinely interested in trying to turn the mall around by changing with the times and reanimating its retail roster. And it needs to demonstrate it, not just promise it. A change is needed now, for the current trajectory is unacceptable and cannot last.

kmh

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