By  on September 10, 2008

BAL HARBOUR, Fla. — The leasing department at Bal Harbour Shops is starting to resemble air traffic control.

Not since the tony center added its second story in 1983 have there been so many new tenants, relocations and renovations, according to Matthew Whitman Lazenby, a general partner and director of leasing. Everything’s happening so fast that new store listings on directories for shoppers are crudely printed to keep up with the reshuffling, with some stores such as Zegna moving up to three times before reaching their final location.

“[It] comes down to opportunity, because an unusual amount of leases expired at once,” said Lazenby, who’s helped reposition the center with brands like Jimmy Choo, Chloé and Agent Provocateur, and moving away from moderate labels.

Stores slated to open include Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera, Miu Miu, Diane von Furstenberg, Elie Tahari, Nanette Lepore, Roger Vivier, Bonpoint and 100% Capri, which specializes in pure linen apparel. Georg Jensen is returning to the center after an almost two-year hiatus, while De Beers and Pomellato are slated to arrive. Most of the stores aim to open by December to capture Art Basel Miami traffic.

Gap and Banana Republic closed, freeing up huge spaces, along with Cole Haan, Malo, Lalique and Mermaids Swimwear Boutique, which are being carved up to make room for new stores. Excluding anchors Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, stores are anywhere from 600 square feet to 7,000 square feet, with 1,500 square feet to 2,000 square feet the average size of a shop. Bal Harbour, with 450,000 square feet of space, is squeezing in nearly 100 tenants. It’s no wonder the center is popular with retailers: Sales per square foot in May 2008 were $2,140, nearly 20 percent higher than last May. Average sales per square foot for fine jewelry are about $6,000, a 37 percent increase from June 2007 to May 2008.

“The jump [in productivity] owes a lot to redoing store sizes,” said Lazenby. “Customers are turned off by [large stores’] unapproachable size. Yves Saint Laurent divided its original space to create a store for sister brand Bottega Veneta, and sales per square foot doubled.”

While much of Florida is suffering the same economic woes as the rest of the country, and Miami residents are feeling pinched, experts claim the city is being kept aloft by European, South American and Russian tourists. “The increasing strength of the euro makes Miami an affordable shopping destination for luxury products and is maintaining the luxury retail sector,” said Frank R. Nero, president and chief executive officer of The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County’s official economic development partnership. “We have noticed that fashion and lifestyle brands are looking at Miami as a sustainable option for expanding their retail operations and establishing new sales and distribution offices to reach their target markets.”

Marco Giacometti, chief executive of Tod’s USA, said Roger Vivier will open its second U.S. store in Bal Harbour because of Tod’s relationship with the center. “We’re getting ready to renew the lease there for Tod’s, which has been open about 10 years, and we also want Roger Vivier to be among this fantastic concentration of luxury brands,” he said.

According to Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier, the store’s intimacy works with his goal of a warm, private shopping experience. It has all the makings of a cozy den with Ultrasuede walls, wool carpets and mohair upholstery in muted matte neutrals.

Roberto Cavalli’s relocation to a 4,000-square-foot space is one of the few expansions. Stores such as Zegna, Valentino, Sergio Rossi and Custo Barcelona are moving to smaller spaces or, like St. John and MaxMara, to the second level. Boarded up storefronts abound, but the center tries to find temporary spaces for stores during their relocation. Other stores such as Prada, Fendi, Ferragamo and Giorgio Armani are simply renovating or remodeling.

MaxMara unveiled its 2,000-square-foot prototype in mid-June. With oak panels and painted glass, the store is a contrast from many at the center with sleek, glossy environments. Lazenby said stores can be built in less than 30 days. Leases last an average of five years, with two- to three-year renewal options.

“We’re certainly in an enviable position with shorter leases,” he said. “Most retailers want at least 10 years, but we think five is fair.”

The five-year leases didn’t deter Robert Savage, president of Nanette Lepore, whose store is bowing in February. The shop will sell ready-to-wear, shoes and fragrances in minimalist, feminine surroundings with pale pink marble floors, white antique mirrors and Italian chandeliers. “We do a great deal of business in the state,” Savage said. “We wanted to be in the top upscale mall in America.”

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