NEW YORK — The reshuffling of retail real estate keeps going.
On Tuesday, The Mills Corp. said it will spend $1.03 billion for a 50 percent stake in nine shopping centers, including The Falls in Miami.
Also, Thor Equities said it will buy two Florida centers for $120 million, including Miami’s CocoWalk. The deal follows Thor’s acquisition of 36 South State Street in Chicago’s Loop, as part of a joint venture, about two weeks ago.
In June, The Simon Property Group Inc. bought Chelsea Property Group Inc. in a dramatic $4.8 billion merger, combining the biggest U.S. mall developer with the largest outlet developer. And General Growth, the nation’s second-larger mall developer, in April said it will spend $430.8 million to buy the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge and a 50 percent ownership interest in Riverchase Galleria in Birmingham, Ala., plus another $766 million to buy the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
The flurry of deals this year underscores just how hungry developers are to buy up property and build real estate empires, with interest rates being low and little room left to build new malls in attractive demographic areas. Developers are diversifying their portfolios and aren’t even a tad discouraged by the premium prices many retail properties now command. Developers see potential for remerchandising malls with new and different kinds of tenants and for raising productivity levels at mature centers.
The Arlington, Va.-based Mills, best known for developing huge hybrid centers combining retail and entertainment components, said the nine regional malls total 9.6 million square feet of gross leasable area and yielded tenant sales of $2.1 billion last year. The 50 percent stake was purchased from General Motors Asset Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors managing more than $148 billion in assets.
The Mills package includes several large and well-known centers, in addition to The Falls. They are: Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, Calif.; Meadowood in Reno, Nev.; The Mall at Tuttle Crossing and Columbus City Center, both in Columbus, Ohio; Lakeforest Mallin in Gaithersburg, Md.; Marley Station in Anne Arundel County, Md.; Hilltop Mall in Contra Costa County, Calif., and Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, Mich. Most of these properties exceed 1 million square feet.“We are acquiring these properties because of their high quality, attractive yields and potential for increased productivity. We will enhance our return by leveraging our substantial merchandising and development expertise,” Laurence C. Siegel, Mills chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
“I’m not surprised by this deal,” said Jim Rosenfield, national director of retail services at real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield. “Malls are still very desirable properties to own. Mills’ roots are in developing hybrid centers, but the company is now clearly committed to growing the traditional mall side of its portfolio. You’ll see creative revitalizing of those properties, with unorthodox stores and environments.”
Rosenfield pointed out that at its Xanadu Madrid complex in Spain, Mills put up a ski slope as one of the centerpieces. Another unusual element seen at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, Fla., is Wannabe City, where kids can pretend to be policeman, firemen, pizza makers, archeologists and other professions in a supervised environment geared to be fun and educational. Wannabe City will be rolled out to other Mills sites.
The nine malls Mills is taking a stake in “is not just a portfolio investment,” observed Isaac Lagnado, president of tactical.org. “The future hybridization of the tenant mix is going to be key, with off-price stores, outlets and entertainment features. At present, the mix of these malls is generally standard, with the usual anchors, likes Macy’s, Sears and Penney’s, and the usual phalanx of specialty stores.”
For developers, generally “The way to grow is to buy property,” Lagnado said. “There is just not enough land in the major demographic areas to actually put in new malls. The country is already saturated, and probably oversaturated.”
Mills, a real estate investment trust, owns, develops, leases, manages and markets a portfolio of 27 retail and entertainment destinations totaling 34 million square feet, and has eight projects under construction or in development.
Thor, in addition to purchasing the 455,000-square-foot CocoWalk in the Coconut Grove section of Miami, bought the 272,000-square-foot Beach Place in Fort Lauderdale. Both were purchased from Transwestern, a Chicago investment firm.“We are definitely out there to acquire properties that fit our niche — the urban ethnic market,” said Carl Reggie, Thor’s director of corporate marketing. “We have a ‘hot list’ of between 200 to 300 properties. It’s like a wish list” of properties that Thor would examine for potential acquisition.
Thor owns about 15 locations, representing 6 million square feet, and has a track record of purchasing down-and-out urban sites and revitalizing them. The Florida buys are somewhat of a strategy shift, since the properties are not faltering, but they still fit into Thor’s niche, Reggie said. “Both properties are in urban, ethnic, densely populated areas, and the approach is to continue to take the tenant mix to a higher level.”
At its State Street property, Thor plans to add retail to the first two floors; the third floor will have offices, and the remaining 16 floors will hold 169 condominium units. In the Chicago area, Thor also owns 26-34 State Street, an 80,000-square-foot retail and commercial property, and the Gallery at Canterbury, a 260,000-square-foot retail mall 25 miles southwest of the city, in Markham.
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