By  on March 12, 2013

DALLAS — NorthPark Center reaped more than $1.1 billion in sales last year, a record that ranks the white brick quadrangle among the nation’s highest-volume shopping malls.“Almost 50 percent of our stores last year had their best year ever,” said Nancy Nasher, who owns and operates the mall with her husband, David Haemisegger.It hasn’t slowed down, she noted, with a 40 percent comparable-store sales increase at nonanchor ready-to-wear boutiques in January, she noted.“It’s an unbelievable start in that category, and our jewelry is also extraordinarily high, and our accessories have been very high,” Nasher said. “It’s a great start for the year.”The power couple targeted the $1 billion mark after masterminding the 2006 expansion that added a two-story youth-oriented retail corridor, multiplex cinema and food court, lofting leasable space to 2.3 million square feet.NorthPark’s mix is the biggest factor in the center’s growth, they said, noting its 225 tenants are selected to represent “the best of the best” in retail. As a whole, they address every age and price point from fast fashion to luxury, including 70 nameplates exclusive in the metro area, such as Oscar de la Renta.The mix, which will gain Tourbillon next fall, is attracting international and regional tourists plus local traffic from a wider radius of suburbs for a total of 26 million visits last year, Haemisegger estimated.Even during the recession, the mall consistently posted sales gains, Nasher pointed out.“In a weird way, the downturn in the economy perhaps helped us,” Haemisegger reflected. “When you have limited dollars to spend, you want to go someplace that has the offering so you know you’ve seen everything.”NorthPark is home to one of Neiman Marcus’ top-three doors plus big anchors of Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Macy’s. But it’s not without notable hiccups. Barneys New York shut its sculpted entries March 2 after a dismal seven-year run in the 88,000-square-foot flagship. The glamorous two-level store peaked at $15 million to $18 million in annual sales, according to sources. It was Barneys’ second attempt at NorthPark after floundering in a smaller space in the Nineties.Industry observers felt the biggest problem was a lack of marketing and community involvement, which Haemisegger echoed.“They needed to be more promotional and reach out to the community,” he said. “We would tell them consistently that Neiman Marcus owns this town but they don’t take their clients for granted. They understand they have to keep engaging.”The space will be divided into luxury stores and possibly other retail categories but nothing is finalized, he said. The area economy has helped the mall thrive.“Texas survived the recession better than most other states,” Haemisegger pointed out. “We never really had the big dip. I think that’s how we hit the billion-dollar mark.”Looking ahead, the couple wants to further develop the property, including potentially a hotel. A more immediate project is a long-planned renovation to brighten the original corridors with additional skylights. It was delayed by the downturn, when construction would have been too disruptive to tenants, Haemisegger said, but is expected to start this summer near Macy’s. NorthPark is one of five centers to eclipse $1 billion, Haemisegger said, citing such fellow complexes as Ala Moana Center in Honolulu; Aventura Mall in Florida; Houston Galleria, and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif. This data isn’t independently tracked, and he attributed it to information shared among industry leaders.“The challenges are always keeping on top of things and trying to add the best retailers — and knowing who they are,” Haemisegger added. “With all these better properties, that’s what they do. Size helps, but it’s really about freshness and the mix and not taking things for granted.”NorthPark’s most unusual asset is its eye-catching collection of contemporary sculpture, prints and paintings. Nasher, whose portrait was done by Andy Warhol when she was 26, is proud of the tradition started in the late Sixties by her collector parents, mall developer Ray Nasher and his wife, Patsy.Artful, often color-blocked landscaping with live flowers, cacti and greenery by NorthPark’s own team is equally important to the aesthetic, Nasher pointed out. “Our mall space is major art or landscaping and simple benches. It’s more than going to a normal shopping center. It’s the whole experience, from the moment shoppers walk in the doorway.”Her father envisioned the mall as a community center, and it has become just that, hosting almost daily events from concerts to fashion shows, charity fund-raisers and yoga classes in the center garden, where children are often playing.Having significantly upgraded its Web site in December with faster speed, better graphics, additional information on events and promotions and a blog spotlighting new products, NorthPark is developing a mobile app.“It would be a directory, something that homes in on where you are and brings you through the mall, and has programming and events,” Haemisegger explained. “We’d like to have specials or sales if the retailers would upload it to us.”They’re also working on plans for the center’s 50th anniversary in 2015. “The property has gotten better but its values have always been very consistent,” noted Haemisegger, as Nasher added, “The focus on the qualitative experience, the quality of the retailer, the community involvement, the landscaping and the art.”

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