NEW YORK — In the world of retail real estate, it’s a seller’s market.

Two major California malls — the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance and the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto — were sold Tuesday. More properties are up for sale, among them, Maine’s largest center, the 1.2 million-square-foot Maine Mall, in South Portland.

Mills Corp. bought Del Amo for $442 million before transaction costs, from The Torrance Co., a private firm.

“Adding the Del Amo Fashion Center to our portfolio fits very well with our strategy of acquiring properties that we can enhance with a unique mix of retail and entertainment venues and turn into market-dominant consumer destinations,” Laurence C. Siegel, Mills’ chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. Mills has been aggressive on the acquisition front, and last year purchased five properties from Cadillac Fairview of Toronto, including The Galleria in White Plains, N.Y.

Simon Property Group Inc. agreed to buy Stanford Shopping Center for $331 million from the Stanford Management Co., an investment arm of Stanford University. Simon, the nation’s biggest shopping center developer, also has been hunting for properties and is currently engaged in a hostile bid to buy Taubman Centers.

“There have been a lot of trophy mall sales and they’re selling at very good prices,” said Bill Phillips, managing director of real estate for the Stanford Management. “Like all investments, we reviewed [Stanford Shopping Center] and found it was better for the university to sell it and reinvest the money somewhere else. We’ve gone through this evaluation for decades and it was always better for us to retain the asset, but we’re now in a unique period.”

Industry experts say retail real estate is one of the few sectors that has held up in the down economy. Real estate investors, which are often pension funds, are seeking to offset their losses in the stock market by selling off property. In terms of the fundamentals, rents and occupancy rates at “A” malls remain strong, even though some areas of retailing have been tough. Targeted specialty store chains, discounters and newer retail concepts in the U.S., such as Crayola and H&M, continue to draw consumers, though department stores have been losing ground.According to the International Council of Shopping Centers and Mills Corp., Del Amo is the fourth-largest mall in the country with 2.5 million square feet. The Mall of America, with 4.2 million square feet, is the country’s largest. King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia is ranked second with 2.9 million square feet, followed by South Coast Plaza, in Costa Mesa, Calif., with 2.8 million square feet. The Houston Galleria, with 2.4 million square feet, is the fifth largest.

Del Amo was built in 1969 and has sales per square foot of $465. The center, located in the South Bay submarket of Los Angeles, is anchored by Macy’s, Macy’s Home and Furniture Gallery, Sears, Robinsons-May and J.C. Penney. Approximately 403,000 square feet in the northeast wing of the property, including 220,000 square feet of in-line space, has been vacated for redevelopment. Mills’ preliminary plans involve redeveloping approximately 670,000 square feet of existing space (including the northeast wing), and the addition of tenants.

Mills, a real estate investment trust based in Arlington, Va., owns, develops, leases, manages and markets 24 retail and entertainment destinations totaling 31 million square feet. Currently, Mills has seven projects under construction or development around the world, and is really the only developer active overseas.

Mills also announced that it secured a $500 million credit facility, which will help the company take advantage of acquisition opportunities.

Stanford University has been using funds obtained from the open-air Stanford center, spreading over some 1.4 million square feet, to support the university’s operating needs, including tuition, research and the maintenance of buildings. The Stanford center is anchored by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s West and a Macy’s Men’s Store. It notched up total sales in 2002 of $500 million, said Phillips.

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