THE WESTCHESTER: BIG PLANS FOR UPSCALE MALL

Byline: Lisa Lockwood

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y.--The Westchester, the new 850,000-square-foot mall that opened here this month, boasting retailers such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and the soon-to-open Tiffany & Co., has set aggressive sales goals.
The mall is projected to generate first-year volume of $361 million, increasing to $450 million by the end of 1996, according to a spokesman for the O'Connor Group, its developer.
Anchored by the new 219,000-square-foot Nordstrom--the chain's first unit in New York State--and the newly renovated Neiman Marcus, The Westchester is 95 percent leased. About 80 specialty stores opened on March 17, with about 30 more currently under construction and slated to open later this spring and summer. A total of 160 stores is expected to be operating by Christmas.
"They feel it will be one of the top-grossing malls in the U.S., based on square footage," said the O'Connor spokesman. That would put it right up there with the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Paramus Park in Paramus, N.J., each of which generates in excess of $500 per square foot. The Westchester expects to pull in between $375 to $400 a square foot when it's in full swing.
During the first three days of operation, between 30,000 and 40,000 people visited the mall each day, said the spokesman.
With its grand opening coinciding with St. Patrick's Day, the mall had a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured clowns from Cirque du Soleil, the Westchester Philharmonic and a hot-air balloon that released thousands of shiny green shamrocks to the tune of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
The Westchester, located about 18 miles north of midtown Manhattan, is expected to draw customers from the city as well as from the rest of Westchester County and nearby Connecticut. It is only six miles from Greenwich, Conn.
"While most regional malls will draw from a five-to-10-mile radius, this mall will draw from a 20-mile radius because there are so many major highways that it's convenient to," said the O'Connor spokesman, citing the Hutchinson River Parkway, the New York Thruway, Route 684 and the Sprain Brook Parkway. The mall is at the intersection of Bloomingdale Road and Westchester Avenue here.
Among the specialty stores now in operation are Tommy Hilfiger, Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, The Limited, Structure, Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Baby Guess/Guess Kids, Speedo Authentic Fitness, The Gap, Gap Kids, Godiva, Nordic Track, Eileen Fisher, Timberland, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Eddie Bauer, F.A.O. Schwarz, Kenneth Cole and Joan & David.
A Warner Bros. store will bow March 31, while Tiffany will open next month. Disney, Crate & Barrel and A/X Armani Exchange are slated for summer openings.
The new mall should be a boon to the 143,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus, which has been operating at this location since 1980. For the five years before that, the store was a Bergdorf Goodman. The Neiman Marcus unit has undergone a $15 million renovation.
County Executive Andrew P. O'Rourke said The Westchester will create between $5 million and $6 million in county sales tax generated through these new stores and another $12 million for the state. It's created about 2,500 full- and part-time jobs.
Asked how it might affect stores outside the mall, such as Bloomingdale's and Saks, which are a block away in White Plains, O'Rourke said, "Theoretically, having people come into town helps everybody."
The O'Connor spokesman noted that the mall is expected to draw customers away from the Stamford Town Center, 15 miles to the north in Connecticut.
"What's been happening since the Town Center opened is it's filled with a lot of customers from New York State, and New York's been losing tax dollars," the spokesman said. "Statistically, we know that, and traditionally, White Plains has always drawn heavily from adjacent Fairfield County [Conn.]. Connecticut shoppers are very active in Westchester."
Al Messer, general manager of the Stamford Town Center, which was built 12 1/2 years ago, said, "There's no question, the Westchester has a fine selection of merchants, but the Stamford Town Center has had them for a number of years, and we've done our refinement. We've pretty well zeroed in on who our consumer is in our area and what she comes to us for."
Messer noted that perhaps the people who live in White Plains will shop at The Westchester, but people directly north of Stamford, in Pound Ridge, N.Y., for example, will test both centers. Messer said that 80 percent of his customer base is from Connecticut.
He said the Stamford Town Center, which has 130 specialty stores and is anchored by Macy's and a soon-to-open Filene's, is "upscale, a little more conservative."
"Our strength is in stores like Brooks Brothers, Steuben and Burberrys. Some of the stores will be duplications, but many of them won't," said Messer.
"The [Connecticut] tax is a great advantage to us. There's no tax on clothing up to $50. Above that, it's 6 percent," said Messer. In White Plains, the tax is 7.75 percent on all clothing purchases.
Already, The Galleria in White Plains, located three blocks away with a less-expensive store mix, is defending its turf. The mall, anchored by J.C. Penney and A&S--which will convert to Stern's this spring--launched a print and outdoor ad campaign touting the affordable nature of its retail tenants, with the tagline, "This is shopping for the real world."
The Westchester, which was six years in the making--including the two years it was under construction--came in on budget, which was $250 million, said Jeremiah W. O'Connor Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of The O'Connor Group.
Among the amenities at the mall are valet parking, a customer service center with full-time concierge services, an international gourmet food court and three full-service restaurants. The mall is appointed with marble terrazzo and carpeted floors, skylights, three fountains, sculptures and historical exhibits. The architect for the project was RTKL Associates of Dallas.
While most customers surveyed sounded pleased with the mall, a few complained about the parking fees. Rates begin at $1.50 for up to two hours and go as high as $6 for seven hours. After 5 p.m., the rates drop to a flat fee of $1. Valet parking costs $2 above the parking ticket. In contrast, at the Stamford Town Center, metered parking rates go from 50 cents for three hours to 75 cents for four hours.
"The reason it's so much more expensive during the day [at The Westchester] is to discourage office workers [in nearby White Plains offices] from using the space all day," said an O'Connor spokesman. He said the 1.5 million-square-foot garage is privately owned.
One customer, Renate Schaller, traveled from Demarest, N.J., with her mother to check out the new Nordstrom.
"We like it so far. It's beautiful. We shop in the Paramus [N.J.] store, which has a larger and better couture department. This one's very small," said Schaller.
The couture department houses such designers as Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Mary McFadden, Rena Lange and Michael Casey. It's adjacent to a fitting area with sofas, a table and magazines.
"The whole mall's very nice. Neiman Marcus needed something to wake it up," added Schaller.
One shopper, however, was disappointed with the mix of stores.
"It's got the same stores as the other malls," said Margie Odierno, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. "A lot of it is repetitious."

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