(Oct. 21, 1926-Sept. 16, 2009). Melvin Simon was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Max and Mae Simon. His father, a tailor who emigrated from Central Europe, moved the family to the Bronx when Simon was a boy. He grew up in this New York City borough alongside his two younger brothers Fred (1930-2019) and Herbert (1934-).

After graduating from Bronx High School of Science, Simon attended City College of New York and received a degree in accounting. He then served in the Army where he was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. To supplement his military pay, Simon sold encyclopedias and cookware door-to-door.

Following his discharge from the Army, Simon worked as a leasing agent with the Albert Frankel Company, an Indianapolis developer of strip shopping centers. One of his first assignments was for Meadows Shopping Center, which opened in 1956.

After a couple of years at Albert Frankel, Simon decided to create his own company. Known as Melvin Simon & Associates, the agency was formed with his brothers Fred and Herbert in 1960. The company originally developed local strip shopping centers before transitioning to enclosed malls by 1964. The somewhat novel and unproven concept ended up being a success for Melvin Simon & Associates as the company began opening several enclosed malls throughout the country in the 1970s and 1980s.

Melvin Simon & Associates helped develop the business model for modern mall operators. Large retailers, such as J. C. Penney, L. S. Ayres And Company (1872-2006), and Sears, were offered lower rents as a way to entice them to become anchor tenants at Simon-owned properties throughout the country. These agreements were usually completed before development sites were chosen, which made banks more willing to finance most or all the real estate agency’s projects. Smaller stores, meanwhile, were usually charged proportionately more rent and often required to pay a premium over basic rent if their sales exceeded a certain level. In addition to these practices, the company was one of the first developers to attract movie theaters into shopping centers.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Simon ventured into movie production. The venture was unsuccessful except for Porky’s, a raunchy teenage comedy released in 1981. The film grossed over $100 million (about $300 million in 2021) in its initial domestic run.

In 1983, Fred Simon resigned from Melvin Simon & Associates to pursue other interests. Melvin ended up with two-thirds of the company, while Herbert owned the rest. That same year, Mel and Herb Simon purchased the Indiana Pacers

At the time of the purchase, the team was facing severe financial difficulties, low fan attendance, and constant threats of relocation. The brothers’ acquisition of the team, which was made at the behest of city leaders, kept the Pacers in Indianapolis and eventually resulted in the franchise’s renaissance during the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 1993, Melvin Simon & Associates went public as Simon Property Group. At the time, it was the largest initial public offering in the history of real estate investment trusts (REITs). The publicly-traded company operated under the leadership of David Simon, Mel’s oldest son. Melvin and Herbert Simon, meanwhile, served as the real estate agency’s cochairmen.

Two years after the formation of Simon Property Group, Circle Centre Mall opened on September 8, 1995. The Simon-developed property served as a major example of the company’s commitment to the revitalization of downtown Indianapolis. Simon Property Group Headquarters, which opened a few blocks from Circle Centre Mall in 2006, served as another example of the Simon family’s loyalty to the city.

In 2007, Mel and Herb Simon stepped down as co-chairmen of Simon Property Group. The chairmanship of the company was handed over to David Simon. Two years after this transition, Melvin Simon died of cancer at the age of 82.

Throughout his life, Melvin Simon supported numerous charitable, political, and civic organizations. This work was usually done alongside his wife, Bren Simon, whom he married in 1972. Major beneficiaries of the couple’s giving include The Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation (established in 1998), the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, The Children’s Museum Of Indianapolis, the Great American Songbook Foundation, and the Indiana University School Of Medicine, whose Cancer Center was renamed in honor of the couple after their $50 million gift in 2006.

Melvin Simon’s prolific career and philanthropic giving also resulted in several awards and recognitions. Some of these distinctions include Simon’s induction into the Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame, being named a “Lifetime Trustee” of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), serving as a former trustee of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), receiving the Jewish Welfare Federation’s “Man of the Year,” receiving the Horatio Alger Award and earning honorary doctorate degrees from Indiana University Kelley School of Business and Butler University.

Revised June 2021

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