The free market couldn’t save Arcadia’s Outlet Mall two years ago.
Town officials, however, thought they could do a better job versus the private sector, and that’s why they spent $700,000 of taxpayer money to buy that mall and run it themselves.
According to published reports from 2017, they did so, ironically enough, to generate more tax revenue for the town, which has about 3,000 people.
Current town officials, including Mayor Orlandis Millican and members of the town’s Economic Development Department, have not responded to The Hayride’s repeated requests for comment. Specifically, we wanted to know whether the investment of taxpayer dollars was worth the expense.
Former Mayor Eugene Smith was most responsible for arranging that deal.
Smith told the Shreveport-based KTBS television station at the time that the town buying the mall was “a matter of life and death.”
Smith’s grandson, Jesse Smith, told The Hayride this week that his grandfather was going to spruce up that building and generate more traffic. Eugene Smith passed away, however, before he could carry those plans out.
When asked, Jesse Smith said he did not know precisely what his grandfather had in mind.
“He just didn’t have enough time to do what he really wanted to do,” Jesse Smith said.
“I don’t know why there was a decline in traffic at the mall. Arcadia is a small town, and it’s hard to bring in people from Ruston and the other surrounding areas to shop at some of these stores.”
The mall is situated along Interstate 20, while you pass through Bienville Parish. Oftentimes, the mall’s parking lot seems to have only a few vehicles. That’s a stark contrast to what the parking lot was usually like when the mall opened in the early 1990s.
Stores, according to the mall’s Facebook page, sell clothing apparel and cater to 70,000 customers a year. The page also says mall officials “are aggressively pursuing additional stores.”
When asked whether the town should have purchased the mall, members of the nearly 20,000 member Facebook group Ruston Rants said town officials should have spent that taxpayer money elsewhere.
One member, Justin Toms of Shreveport, said the people in charge should have instead tried to save their historic downtown area.
“Instead of buying a dying mall, they should’ve offered incentives to every retailer to move to rebuilt, renovated storefronts in the downtown area, torn the mall down, and offered that land for sale for some other purpose that would actually make money, be economically profitable and put actual tax revenue into town coffers instead of being a net negative,” Toms wrote.
“They should’ve put the courthouse and the library right there as well (and honestly, still not too late to correct that mistake, though it’ll be costly now). You’ve already got restaurants and banks in an area that, square footage wise is more efficiently productive than that mall ever was or ever will be. Adding the stores there would’ve strengthened the town. But no, let’s hold onto something that flat doesn’t work anymore.”