Deals of the Year: Westfield and GGP
The past six months have seen transactions that are realigning U.S. mall ownership. In December, Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco, the largest commercial property owner in Europe, announced plans to acquire Westfield Corp. in a $16 billion deal. In March, after an earlier failed bid, Brookfield Property, a unit of Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, said it would acquire the two-thirds of Chicago-based GGP it doesn’t already own in a $15 billion transaction. Meanwhile, other real estate investment trusts are facing challenges from activist investors seeking to maximize the value of their properties.
With all this activity, could there be another round of retail real estate consolidation similar to 25 years ago? Not likely, observers say. An already consolidated industry (at least in the mall sector) and plain old blood ties should keep major portfolio transactions down for now.
The past 15 years have seen a number of acquisitions, observed Alexander D. Goldfarb, a managing director and senior REIT analyst at New York-based Sandler O’Neill and Partners L.P., including Wilmorite by Macerich in 2005 and GGP’s purchase of Rouse Company in 2004. More recently, Forest City had considered selling itself, but could not come to terms with a potential buyer. A number of assets, however, were sold to Australia-based investment firm QIC.
Given that Brookfield already owns 34% of GGP, “The Brookfield bid for GGP was expected. The question is, what are the future pair-ups?” Goldfarb asked.
The Unibail-Rodamco/Westfield deal is a unique situation where two companies’ assets are complementary, said Herman Kok, head of research for Meyer Bergman, a Brussels-based pan-European investment manager specializing in urban mixed-use real estate. Westfield’s 35-center portfolio dominates in the United States and the United Kingdom, while Unibail-Rodamco has properties across the European continent. The combined entity will have 104 centers, 56 of them being flagships.
“Both companies have highly dominant centers in their markets,” Kok said. “Both boards respected each other a lot, making for a very strong opportunity for Unibail-Rodamco and Westfield to unite their focus.”
Each firm can learn from the other. Westfield’s branding capabilities will be transferred to Unibail-Rodamco centers. While Westfield is being acquired, it’s that name that will be rolled out to the combined company’s destinations. Kok observed that Unibail-Rodamco is known for four-star hospitality at its projects, but the greatest advantage may lie in leasing.
“Unibail-Rodamco deals with all of the European retailers, Westfield with the U.S. and U.K. retailers. There will be a lot of crossover,” Kok said.
In late March, Brookfield Property Partners and GGP finally reached an agreement, after Brookfield sweetened an earlier bid for the 66% of GGP it didn’t already own. Under the final agreement, GGP investors would have a choice between $23.50 per share in cash or stock in either Brookfield Property or a new REIT being formed. The deal, which will create a combined company with assets of more than $90 billion, is expected to close in the third quarter.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll see more international crossovers. The U.S. mall industry is more heavily consolidated than in Europe, Kok noted. Though Unibail-Rodamco is by far the largest player on the continent, other major owners include Klépierre, British Land, Hammerson, and a number of funds. And there’s plenty of easier consolidation to take place within the continent.
Instead, future activity could take place within U.S. REITs themselves. In March, activist investor Jonathan Litt of Land & Buildings Management made a second bid for a board seat on Taubman Centers. The company also has seen hedge fund Elliott Management take a stake. Dan Loeb and his hedge fund Third Point LLC similarly is targeting Macerich.
In a way, though, the activity can be seen as a testament to the power of the super-regional mall. In the industry’s early years, malls were built on the outskirts of metropolitan areas; but as populations have grown, and housing has expanded, many of these projects are now located within urban areas. This makes them appealing, Goldfarb said. Meanwhile, millennials seek social activities, while brands want foot traffic to build awareness.
“The Class A mall is still a powerful animal,” Goldfarb said. “The people buying Teslas are not kicking tires. And why are they based at malls? Because that’s where the people are.”
However, what could also be stopping further corporate sales is pure sentiment. Though the companies are public, many are still helmed by their founding families, Goldfarb said. It’s not surprising that the Westfield deal took place seeing as founder Frank Lowy is well into his 80s.
“It comes down to the CEOs,” Goldfarb said. “When the CEO is ready to hang up his hat, it will happen, but not yet.”
Debra Hazel is an international retail and real estate journalist and media consultant. She is the author and editor of several books for ICSC; plus, check out her blog aroundtheworldin80malls.com.
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Second office building sells out at Celebration Pointe
Celebration Pointe, the newly opened mixed-use development in Gainesville, Fla., has fully leased the space in the second office building on the site. The combined 135,000 sq. ft. of office space will deliver retail tenants a daytime shopper population of 700 employees, according to the developers.
Luxury outlets highlight the extensive retail offerings at the 160-acre project. Nike Factory Store, Tommy Hilfiger, and Kilwins confectionery have opened.
“All of Celebration Pointe’s office tenants, their employees, and their guests will have many amenities at their door step, including immediate access to a beautifully landscaped, park-like setting called Tech Park,” said Ralph Conti, president of RaCo Real Estate, who is co-developing Celebration Pointe with Viking Companies.
Dining and entertainment options play a central role at the town center, home to the 140-room Hotel Indigo. Rascal Flatts Bar & Grill, Miller’s Ale House, MidiCi Pizza, and a second location for Gainseville’s popular Reggae Jamaican restaurant figure to be popular early attractions, Conti said.
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Brick-and-mortar is here to stay
The internet has changed forever the way people shop. That’s a well-agreed upon assertion.
It has cut into sales at physical retail locations due to ease of use and competitive pricing.
Top retail center developers and retail executives are all too aware of the ways that the internet has redrawn their playing fields, but all are equally convinced that brick and mortar centers fill human needs that the digital experience can’t begin to address.
Below are some of their thoughts on the matter:
president and CEO of CBL Properties
Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around the mall business. Spending time with my grandfather, one of our industry’s true pioneers who built Chattanooga’s first regional shopping center, Eastgate, in 1962. Driving around a cornfield in Chattanooga where we built the second mall in the market, Northgate, in 1974. Exploring markets throughout the South with my dad, while I learned to drive and he scouted sites. Countless groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings.
Our malls are about shopping, but also about so much more because of the role they play in their communities. We always partner with local charities for the grand opening and still do today for special events throughout the year. We’ve held thousands of events at our malls over the years — art displays, vintage car shows, food festivals and celebrity appearances. Our malls are still the largest employer and taxpayer in most cities or towns where we operate. We offer experiences for young and old — Santa photos, movie debuts, and trick or treating. Even with all the changes in retail real estate, our malls continue to be the epicenter of our communities.
senior managing director of retail advisory for CBRE
I grew up in Hinsdale, Ill., a town of 14,000 people with a classic downtown. It included everything from a barber shop to men’s and women’s boutiques. There was not a store that didn’t accept a family charge. It continues to thrive today as a vibrant suburban village. … So many metropolitan areas today seek to replicate the authentic nature of the village format, but don’t realize that there are certain ingredients that make for success.
president and CEO of RPAI
Brick-and-mortar has always been a staple in retail. As an example, Marshall Field’s, the department store in our great city of Chicago, was founded in the 1800s and burned in the Great Chicago Fire, only to be rebuilt bigger and better. Marshall Field’s was the go-to department store in the days of old where boomers took up window shopping as a pastime, followed by tea and Frango mints in the historic gathering place, the Walnut Room. Today, our modern consumer continues to demand experience when visiting bricks and mortar but is far more focused on convenience and a diverse product offering because of the current day digital marketplace and the advent of social media. The common theme here is experience, and the best brick-and-mortar will remain a staple as long as it can adapt to the ever-changing demands of our consumer.
founder and CEO of Punch Bowl Social
Years ago, people would gather around in parlors, drinking punch together. They gathered together in a communal setting. They had conversations with each other in person. At Punch Bowl Social, we create gathering spaces — and signature punches — for people to connect together in a highly social environment. Everything we create is about the experience. Last year we introduced social virtual reality. It was the first update to our gaming program in five years and we set out to make this often singular experience a social one. This resonates with millennials, who prefer to do things rather than buy things.
principal for Avison Young
As the story goes, almost three-quarters of a century ago, a man was driving from New York to Florida and ran out of gas just outside of Atlanta. He thought to himself, what a great place for a service station. Many years later, in 1959, that service station was turned into an open-air mall. Today, it is one of the most iconic malls in the country; everyone in our industry is familiar with Atlanta’s Buckhead area, and certainly everyone knows of Lenox Mall. And it all started from a service station.
executive VP of leasing for Steiner + Associates
If designed, developed, and activated correctly, a town center has the potential to change the physical and social dynamics of a community. From food and wine festivals to parades and farmers markets to educational exhibits and concerts and movies in the park, the memories created in a town center like our Easton Town Center in Columbus have the ability to leave a lasting impact for generations.
principle of The Outlet Resource Group
People hunger for interaction and the consumer marketplace has always been part of that. Starbucks has mastered the ability to create a gathering place that is as much about the socialization as the coffee. Today’s mixed-use developments are attracting younger millennials and Gen Zers who seek authentic connections and experiences. Shared experiences, whether looking for that special occasion outfit, browsing with a friend or the back-to-school family shopping trip, create bonds and memories. What looks like an argument over a dad’s opinion regarding the length of a skirt today will likely be the humorous anecdote of tomorrow.
president of Butler Enterprises
I first traveled to Europe, Paris in fact, when I was 15 as a nanny for a young family. I have since spent many months in different parts of Europe, living and working in different areas. Later, as my work as a developer grew, I realized I was bringing with me all those experiences from visiting marketplaces and village centers overseas, where for thousands of years people have been gathering and trading as groups in a social environment where they didn’t just feel connected—they grew to actually be connected. On one trip, I was eating in the village center of Urbino, Italy, and an old friend from school was visiting at the same time. Hearing I was in town as well, and without a cell phone of course, he simply went down to the “town square” and asked some of the older men sitting around if they knew me. With much laughter and storytelling they actually brought my friend to where I was eating, and we were able to reconnect.
chairman and CEO of PREIT
As a young man, my first memories of shopping were experiential — shopping, socializing, and taking in the culture at the Italian Market in South Philly. It was an essential trip for Italians in South Philly for holidays and on weekends to buy Italian delicacies and to watch sausage being made and cannolis being filled — and to catch up with friends, hang out, and even meet girls. More than one marriage got its start at the Italian Market. Offerings eventually extended to include apparel and other items typically from Italy. It was always nice to know that you would find friends and make new ones at the Italian Market.
founder and CEO of Steiner + Associates
The curation of the right mix of engaging retail, hospitality, office, multifamily, and civic uses is a formula we have been honing for more than two decades. Creating a sense of place and a true destination requires thoughtful design, synergy and connectivity, a compelling tenant mix, experiential events, and a constant evolution of upgrades and updates that resonate with guests of all ages.
president of X Team Retail Advisors and Velocity Retail Group
Retail trade is fundamental to every culture. For centuries people have gathered at the marketplace. From farmers markets to entertainment centers to traditional storefronts, brick-and-mortar retail helps form the fabric of a community. We will see physical spaces morph into unique environments catering to the consumers’ need for immersive technologies that enhance their social well-being. Brick and mortar will never disappear but will always continue on a journey of transformation.
RaCo Advisors, developer of Celebration Pointe
What if the Romans never built the Forum? How would the absence of what is arguably one of the most celebrated public centers in the history of the world have impacted one of the most storied societies in history? All I can say is that, in my nearly four decades in this business, I have not only visited, but have been blessed to be directly involved in some very interesting retail-centric environments. Something that makes me feel really good is when I am afforded an opportunity to visit a project that I worked on many years ago and see how it has been transformed from a pure retailing environment into something much more. We are seeing a lot of that happen today. That is maybe more satisfying than building something new from the ground up.
VP of customer experience design for Lowe’s
During the holidays last year, we had a huge 6-foot JOY sign at the entrances of most of our stores. One customer dropped in to pick up something on her way home from a doctor’s appointment. She stopped at the sign and cried. After speaking with her, we learned she just found out she was cancer-free. The sign was a validation of her feelings at that moment. She wanted to purchase the sign, but we had, unfortunately, sold out and had only the display left. Understanding the importance of the sign to her at that time in her life, our store team found and shipped her a JOY sign. She placed it in her front garden as a reminder of this milestone in her life. This story is about being a part of something bigger and how we share life moments with our customers in a very personal way.
VP of construction for Saks Fifth Avenue
As a teenager, I would look forward to meeting my friends at the mall. We would hang out at the arcade, the food court, the theater, and of course the stores. There was always something to do, and we would spend all day there. We were able to catch up and share stories. That was our social connection. Today, with advanced digital communication technology, social interaction can happen anywhere, even from the living room couch. The younger generations game online, order food online, watch movies online, and of course shop online. The question is, can the traditional mall experience be saved? I believe it can, but it has to change, evolve, reinvent. Technology is here and it is strong, increasing exponentially year to year. Our young people have the innate ability to grasp and understand that ever-changing platform. They are forward thinking and fearless, and hold the keys to retail resurgence and the new mall experience.
president of Mid-America Real Estate Group
A trip to the shopping center may not always be memorable. However, the absence of the opportunity to gather, shop, socialize, and share thoughts and ideas would reduce the feeling of togetherness and human interaction and quicken the current spiral of non-personal contact. This would be most unfortunate. Plus, I met my wife of 35 years at a retail store. Thank God for brick-and-mortar.
Physical Retail brings the “full experience” to the consumer. This is something Amazon and online Shopping can never do. The retail experience blended with a social and physical activity is an experience that can only be achieved at a retail store, outlet , Promenade and Mall. People want outdoor , walkable , food and Entertainment experiences while they shop and socialize together. No matter how much technology progresses these atributes will only exist in the real World in real time. We are building the full experience in Albuquerque at the Snow Heights Promeenade. A 150 M entertainment center featuring a live concert stage and views for patrons to gather, shop and socialize (GSS). This can never be imitated on Amazon. Sapir is an extreme advocate of Physical Retail, and is not afraid to go head to head with the bohemth Amazon and is available for further interview. Michael Sapir, CEO, Sapir Real Estate Development.