Oddly enough, say the retail pollsters, a downturn economy has been accompanied by an upturn in shopper expectations. A flurry of fall 2008 surveys revealed that customers are expecting high service and an enhanced environment—not only during this holiday shopping month but also in the 2009 retail seasons to come.
For shopping center developers and their retail tenants, this means a tight economy is no excuse for shabby surroundings and service that is lacking.
Chain Store Age talked with four retail real estate developers (all redoubling their efforts to redevelop assets toward maximizing the shopping experience and sales per square foot), about the three “R’s” of redevelopment: revitalize, reposition and rehabilitate.
Revitalize: According to Bob Myers, VP of leasing for Cincinnati-based Phillips Edison, revitalization, while it has many forms, has been a part of the company’s modus operandi for years. “Revitalization, which I define as giving new life and energy to a center, has provided the foundation for our growth,” Myers said, “and it’s been in place for us since prior to the slowdown of the economy.”
For Pablo Plaza, in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., Phillips Edison took a tired, 150,000-sq.-ft. center and has created a totally new shopping experience. The developer recaptured a 10-screen movie theater, plus adjacent small-shop space, and brought in a new Marshalls to co-anchor the center with an existing Office Depot. “We added a new pylon sign and a new facade feature on the Marshalls space,” said Myers. “And that was just on one side of the center.”
On the other side, Phillips Edison recaptured a struggling 25,000-sq.-ft. tenant and added T.J. Maxx’s HomeGoods concept, which opened mid-November.
“In today’s economy, it is still very feasible to revitalize projects,” said Myers. “The key is making sure that you have a good merchandising plan and that you’ve aligned yourself with retailers that are vibrant and growing.”
When Fort Worth, Texas-based Trademark Property Co. acquired the 37-year-old Padre Staples Mall in Corpus Christi, Texas, earlier this year, the company knew a major revitalization project was in store—and it would begin with a name change to La Palmera. According to Trademark president and CEO Terry Montesi, Phase 1 of the initial $50 million transformation is but one baby step toward the finished product.
“The first phase, which will be complete in time for holiday shopping, is small—some paint, soft seating, pots and planters and plants,” said Montesi. “Phase 2, slated for a spring/summer 2009 completion, will feature a new food court and vertical transportation.”
Phase 3 will de-roof the main entrance, an outside lifestyle wing will be added, as will a new exterior, landscaping, parking, environmental graphics, HVAC—and the newly revitalized center will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified.
“When we acquire an asset that is undercapitalized, under-marketed, under-leased, under-managed and under-operated, as we found with La Palmera, we will re-brand, re-market, re-merchandise, completely revitalize it,” said Montesi, “because the market justified it.”
Reposition: To effectively reposition a shopping center within its trade area, a lot of details have to come together in precisely the right way. For 321 North, the mixed-use lifestyle component to Plantation, Fla.’s master plan for an urban town center, the details consisted not only of redeveloping an existing 650,000-sq.-ft. mall, but also incorporating sufficient sustainability to qualify the project for acceptance within the new LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot program.
“We took a traditional mall format and reworked it into a true mixed-use lifestyle destination with a diverse range of retail, dining, entertainment, cultural, office and residential opportunities,” said Grace He, VP of Plantation, Fla.-based U.S Capital Holdings, LLC. “The new architectural design concepts complement the organic and contemporary building materials, abundant landscaping and environmental design elements, and will create a complex that is a true celebration of Florida’s unique lifestyle, climate and social energy.”
Repositioning, said He, has played a key role in the overall development approach to 321 North. “We all know that the consumer drives the business,” said He. “The right architectural design with the right tenant mix reflecting the right project positioning are the keys to attracting consumers.
“Our objective has been to take an existing mall, rebrand it, redesign it and remarket it so that its new identity as 321 North is a project that is innovative and environmentally friendly, and leads the industry’s trend in shopping centers.”
Rehabilitate: “When you look up the word ‘rehabilitate,’ what resonates is to re-establish a good reputation,” said Richard Dube, president of Westchester, Ill.-based Tri-Land Properties. “Ninety percent of what we’ve done over the last 25 years is rehabilitate and reposition properties.”
According to Dube, rehabilitation has little to do with painting or putting on a new facade. Rather, a true rehabilitation requires changing the purpose of the real estate.
For Market Place Mall, in Syracuse, N.Y., Tri-Land took a largely vacant, 450,000-sq.-ft. enclosed mall that included a dilapidated supermarket, and razed the majority of the square footage. The Price Chopper store was expanded and remodeled to offer a contemporary merchandising plan, and tenants such as Lowe’s, OfficeMax, Panera Bread and Moe’s Southwest Grill were among more than 30 new stores and restaurants. “After the rehabilitation, the grocer went from $18 million in annual sales to $37 million in its first 365 days of operation after the redevelopment,” said Dube. “This isn’t about painting a parking lot or adding a facade. It’s about repositioning the real estate so that the offerings attract a new customer.”