Half way between Minneapolis and Des Moines you will find a 220,000 square foot mall that took 20 years to become a reality. Original plans were set forth in 1965 when a redevelopment project started with the idea of a new shopping center. The intent was to keep two existing department stores in the Mason City downtown area. 100,000 square feet for JCPenny and 65,000 square feet for Woolworth’s. However the bond issue for this project did not pass election. So the redevelopment was shelved as this was clearly something the citizens did not want at that time. But over the next few years the city never really abandoned the idea.
By 1970 a few plans were suggested for a pedestrian mall. And in 1972 someone proposed putting a roof over three blocks downtown, essentially transforming the street into an enclosed walkway. But these ideas never materialized. That is until 1974 when a Mason Cityan and Minneapolis developer by the name of Allen Holman submitted an idea for an enclosed shopping center. During the next several years this idea was studied and refined. And by 1977 the city felt the design was ready. It was time to put another bond issue on the ballot.
This time it passed. And in July 1978, the city sponsored a contest to name the new shopping center. Mason Cityan Linda Diegel won the contest and the project officially became known as Southbridge.
In February 1979 the announcement was made that Yonkers was interested in becoming an anchor. And by March 1980 they had signed a letter of intent to do so. But it took another three years before Southbridge found it’s second anchor. That is when JCPenny agreed to move into the shopping center, in April 1983.
With the second anchor established ground breaking for Yonker’s began in October 1983 and work began on the new JCPenny’s in March 1984. One year later, Mason City’s Southbridge Mall was officially opened on May 23, 1985.
The mall was designed with one major corridor running from Yonkers to JCPenny. And another corridor running from Bergo’s, a local department store, to the main parking lot. Theses two corridors met in the middle creating a central courtyard.
Upon entering Southbridge, it is hard not to be drawn immediately to the center court. Light filters through an enormous square lantern above illuminating the living trees. This lantern also serves as a beacon for the downtown area at night.
You can tell a lot of care when into making this mall blend in with it’s downtown surroundings. An abundance of natural light pours onto various living plants and trees throughout. Together with brick walkways and wood benches makes it feel seamless from taking a stroll downtown to entering the mall.
One little surprise found at Southbridge is the neon lighting in the food court. It is not to be missed. So if you ever find yourself near Mason City stop by for a fried ice cream and bask in the colorful brilliance. JCPenny has been shuttered, Younkers is to be closed by September of 2018 and there surely has been talk of redevelopment. But for now, visit and appreciate what took the city and the citizens of Mason City 20 years to accomplish.