Rendering of The Great Room at The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards.

It wasn’t just a matter of following the retail leaders.

Getting Neiman Marcus, Zara, H&M and Uniqlo to lease space at The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards certainly helped attract other retailers and brands to the site. Yet many needed to first visit the massive, $25 billion mixed-use complex, in its advanced stages of construction, to get a handle on all its elements and get over their reservations.

“Some people in the retail business who don’t have vision can’t get convinced of this till they walk in and see it,” acknowledged Kenneth A. Himmel, president and chief executive officer of Related Urban, developer of Hudson Yards.

“It’s not a mall. That’s the difference. It’s about mixed use. It’s about the design of the project, and how we organized all the components — the Shed, the Vessel, the connection to the High Line, and put them together and delivered office tenants with up to 50,000 people working here in brand new buildings,” at 10, 30, 55, and 50 Hudson Yards on the east side of the complex, which is under construction for occupancy in 2020, as well as a fifth tower in phase two of the Hudson Yards development,on the west side of the project. “It all feeds into the Shops & Restaurants.”

For Himmel, mall might as well be a four-letter word. “I don’t use the word ‘mall.’ If you use it, you’re looking backward.”

There was another misconception. “A lot of people attribute us to spending a lot of time in the luxury sector, but at Hudson Yards we are providing a broad and deep platform for the widest possible market to enjoy,” Himmel explained. Of the center’s 750,000 square feet of retail space, Himmel said 20 percent is luxury, 30 percent is food and beverage, and 50 percent is a wide price spectrum of fashion, beauty and home retailers.

On a windy morning in late February, Webber Hudson, executive vice president of Related Urban, and Kimberly Pohlen, senior vice president of Related Urban, give a visitor a tour of The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, designed by Elkus Manfredi. No longer are hard hats required inside, with construction nearing completion, though the orange safety vests are still worn. Eight years after Related’s retail leasing efforts began, and six years after Neiman’s committed, The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards is just two weeks away from opening for business.

The tour starts at “The Great Room,” a 7,000-square-foot landing on the west side of the center with Dior straight ahead, and to either side, Van Cleef & Arpels, Fendi, Watches of Switzerland, Rolex and Patek Philippe.

Elsewhere on the center’s first level, there’s the Tapestry brands — Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman — as well as Tory Burch, Theory and Brooks Brothers.

With the Italian marble floors and variety of stone, wood and other sophisticated finishes, there’s a modern, urbane ambience, and looking out the expansive window facade, there’s a wow factor with the monumental Vessel sculpture dominating the view and the Hudson River in the background.

“This is not your typical project,” Hudson said. “The whole thing is interconnected. It’s very, very porous and woven into the fabric of the neighborhood. We use the word ‘porosity,'”

Looking inward, “You can see the verticality, with the wood trimmed levels,” said Pohlen, encouraging her guest to take it all in. “People ought to know very quickly how to get up to the next level from anywhere you’re standing.”

Rendering of The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards. 

Connectivity comes from a multitude of access points on all sides as well as from the 7 subway line, from the High Line, and from the two office buildings that bookend the center. Vehicles can pull right up on 10th Avenue or on west side by the Vessel. Inside, the Italian marble aisles are wide, spacious, devoid of kiosks and with limited seating, encouraging strolling the three-block stretch from 30th to 33rd Streets. It’s more like meandering down a high street rather than an enclosed center.

Hudson and Pohlen worked closely with Himmel on leasing The Shops & Restaurants. At one point, after reaching out to Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom and getting rejected, the team contemplated not having a department store anchor. “Neiman’s came a little late to the party. We were going to go with a non-department scheme,” Hudson said. “Once Neiman’s came in, Kim and I were off to the races.”

Related also once considered a section for contemporary brands but after the sector cooled, executives came up with a “floor of discovery” on two for brick-and-mortar incarnations of digitally native brands such as Mack Weldon, Rhone and M.Gemi. Related hired executives from the fashion industry who had been familiar with emerging brands to help lease space at Hudson Yards.

“There’s something for everyone who wants to cross shop,” Hudson said. “When you walk in, you’ll notice a very clear merchandise scheme. The third floor will be the velocity driver, with Lululemon, Sephora, Zara, H&M and Aritzia.”

Levels two, three and four have a moderate mix, while five, six and seven represent a return to luxury, primarily with the 190,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus and a 20,000-square-foot Forty Five Ten from Dallas.

Two houses a 10,000-square-foot Uniqlo; a 12,000-square-foot Muji; Citarella, which has an eating bar and takeout; the Snark Park exhibition space, and the lineup of digitally native brands in brick-and-mortar incarnations.

Most of the leases are between five and 10 years.

Level four starts to tell the food story, which extends to higher floors, with some two-level restaurants. There’s the 11,000-square-foot Hudson Yards Grill for steaks, seafood, chicken and fish; a 12,000-square-foot D&D London; a 35,000-square-foot Mercado Little Spain with a variety of Spanish restaurants, bars and tapas kiosks; Shake Shack; Belcampo and the entry for the observation deck on the 100th floor of 30 Hudson Yards where there is also a restaurant. The array of fine dining includes signature restaurants and food experiences by chefs and restaurateurs Thomas Keller, José Andrés, David Chang, Michael Lomonaco and Costas Spiliadis, though there are coffee stops through the center and Li-Lac Chocolates.

Of the 750,000 square feet of retail space in the project, 90 percent is leased, and 85 percent of leased space will be open for business on March 15. The balance of the space should be leased by Oct. 1. Tiffany will open in September a prototype of about 4,000 square feet, and there could be additional brands from Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, in addition to the Van Cleef, Cartier and Dunhill stores. Related made “a collective deal” with Richemont.

Related’s unorthodox merchandising scheme — situating high-end restaurants and high-volume heavy trafficked retailers such as Zara and Uniqlo, as well as Neiman’s on the upper floors to draw shoppers up, is expected to generate in excess of $1,500 a foot by year two or three, Himmel said.

“I got Neiman’s to go to the top,” Himmel said. “It gives them a clean, full, big floor plate,” at 60,000 square feet.

“I could have put Neiman’s at the bottom of the project, but the floor plate would have been compromised because you are dealing with all of the infrastructure,” meaning columns, lobbies, escalators and pass-throughs to the office towers that bookend the shopping center.

The floorplate, Himmel stressed, has enabled Neiman’s to create “an incredible luxury statement with Chanel and Vuitton anchoring the store. We’re giving Neiman’s an architectural presence on the top of the building with a dramatic floorplate that’s totally wide open, and merchandised and designed by Neiman’s without any impediments. You won’t see this at Nordstrom,” which in October opens its 320,000-square-foot women’s flagship on 57th Street and Broadway, with seven levels of varying sizes. Nordstrom almost became the anchor at Hudson Yards but opted for 57th Street.

Related is also providing Neiman’s oversize signage on the east and wide sides of the center, a dedicated Neiman’s lobby entry with three express elevators up to the store, and windows on the street. “Neiman’s has plenty of branding opportunity,” Himmel said.

What kind of traffic is Himmel expecting to see? “I’m looking north of 25 million people in the first year and getting over 30 million by the second or third years. The transformation of the west side in the last five years, with the amount of new residential and office buildings and renovations is unprecedented in any city of the country,” Himmel said. “Guess where they are all going to eat and shop?”