By  on March 6, 2002

NEW YORK -- Shopping in Orlando, America's biggest playland, will take a serious turn to luxury on Oct. 18. That's when Taubman Centers' 1.2 million-square-foot Mall of Millenia debuts, thrusting Gucci bags and Tiffany diamonds into a market saturated by Pooh bears and Mickey Mouse Ts.

However, Robert Taubman says Orlando is hungry for high-end products, that the area has been rebounding since Sept. 11, and carving a luxury niche in Disney World territory, in the midst of a severe luxury downturn and tourism decline, is no fairy tale.

"Nine-eleven so impacted tourist markets and Orlando was really hard hit, but that market has begun to come back pretty strongly," said Taubman, the chairman, chief executive officer and president of Taubman Centers Inc., during an interview. "Cartier within a couple of weeks after 9/11 signed a lease. St. John was soon after, and Gucci signed on. We have continued to sign leases really unabated. The market is the number-one tourist market in the world. There is no venue for better quality goods in Orlando -- no luxury goods destination," aside from Saks Fifth Avenue in Orlando's Florida Mall, where Nordstrom will open in spring 2003. "There's off-price, but no current season."

Asked if he's going to meet his goal of being 70 percent occupied and 80 percent leased in time for the Millenia opening, Taubman stated, "Absolutely." Then he rifled off several of the other luxury tenants that have signed on -- Burberry, Lancel, Lladro, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and La Ferla. As previously announced, the mall will be anchored by Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's and Macy's. A list of 90 tenants will be announced Thursday by Taubman and his partner on the project, The Forbes Company.

"Many are public companies that need to grow their businesses," Taubman said. "They want to move forward with new locations and that's what we are experiencing."

The luxury brands entering Orlando are also in several of Taubman's 31 other properties, notably Cherry Creek in Denver and the Mall at Short Hills, N. J., which is ranked as Taubman's best property, reportedly posting $800 in sales per square foot. "Short Hills is one of the greatest properties in the U.S. Orlando could get there too," Taubman said. "We think the Mall of Millenia will absolutely fit right into our portfolio. Every center takes time to mature. Our view is that with so much of the existing population, we should start out very strong, but it will be several years before it reaches its capacity. There will be promotions with hotels, but the concierges, taxi cabs, bus companies and tour operators have to get to know us. Until you are situated there for a period of years, you don't have the full opportunity of a behavior pattern established."

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