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05/19/2022

URW’s Geoff Mason on Post-Pandemic Development

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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Geoff Mason
Geoff Mason

During more than 10 years with Westfield and Macerich, Geoff Mason spent much of his time helping specific centers continue to provide what their fast-changing communities wanted.  As the assistant VP, property management of Tysons Corner outside of D.C., a two-million-sq.-ft. property with a hotel, luxury apartment tower, and two office towers, he received an advanced education in what successful retail-oriented properties must do to cater to a more sophisticated consumer that wants an environment where they can live, work, and play. Now executive VP of development, design, and operating management at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, we asked Geoff how he’s applying what he’s learned to satisfy—not just shoppers—but workers and residents of modern, retail-centered communities.

Geoff, it seems that the pandemic has moved landlords into more dynamic leasing strategies.  Is that true at Westfield?
Today, we’re not looking to replace one fashion retailer with another; instead, we’re bringing in the most dynamic and best-in-class fashion brands along with more dining, more entertainment, and more health and wellness to meet the daily needs of the consumer. That’s very different than it used to be. Fifteen years ago, if you knew the department stores at mall, you could list out the inline stores with 90% accuracy. Now, consumer expectations are much higher.

The entertainment, restaurant, and fitness segments seem to be in a very creative stage of specialization.
Entertainment used to be a movie theater and dining was just a food court. Now we’re making sure that we have high-quality options for everyone. From experiential dining at iCHiNA at Westfield Valley Fair; to immersive, virtual reality experiences at Dreamscape at Westfield Century City; to new Pinstripes locations at Westfield Topanga and Westfield Garden State Plaza, our centers now provide options for every guest at every time of day.

We hear you’re moving forward with a new vision for some of your shopping centers in the U.S. Tell us about it.
We have a vision to transform many of our most productive shopping centers into landmark destinations that completely reimagine the intersection of retail and urban placemaking. Our goal is to create more than just places to shop, but rather mixed-use destinations that have a resort-like quality, are highly adapted to the local community, and transit-oriented.

Do you feel that, as primarily a center owner-and-operator, you have to approach mixed-use development in a different way?
We are being thoughtful about our strategy for creating landmark destinations, with a focus on four key areas: densification, diversification, innovation, and personalization. And we’re bringing in co-developers and other business partners when and where it makes sense, blending our global retail and development expertise with our partners’ localized experience in residential and community-building. Ultimately, we want to create true town centers where people have all their needs met, whether that be for shopping, socializing, working, dining, or living.