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Shopping centers generally grow by increasing the square footage leased to retailers. Yet, at the Bal Harbour Shops luxury center in Florida, there’s a project that adds space, comfort and aesthetics to a public area, while reducing some selling space.

This story first appeared in the July 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The center, which will celebrate its 40th birthday in 2005, is engaged in an unusual $4.5 million renovation on its second level that involves setting back a 200-foot stretch of stores by 20 feet to increase common space and create a 200-by-30-foot plaza with four sculptures and three fountains. It’s been an opportunity for remerchandising the mix, as well, and the enhanced public space could be used for fashion shows and parties.

“We just want to make the center better. We work at that all the time,” said Stan Whitman, the 85-year-old owner and developer of Bal Harbour Shops. “We have sacrificed some selling space to make the center more attractive. It’s also enticed some designer stores to open there with us. The cost isn’t gigantic, but it’s considerable. Over the years, we’ve had 10 different expansions in this funny little center.”

“We are working on ways to add more stores,” he continued. “We have this tremendous backlog of stores that want to come in.”

And when they do enter, they usually do well. The specialty stores average $1,330 in sales per square foot, Whitman said, making Bal Harbour Shops among the most productive centers in the country. “We’re 18 percent ahead year to date. This could well be our best year. Business started climbing last September,” Whitman said.

The two-level mall, located at 9700 Collins Avenue, has 200,000 square feet for about 100 specialty stores, and 230,000 for its two anchors, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

“It is very difficult to set back stores,” said Mark Hampton, the architect on the redo along with Maria Sellek. “You have to eliminate stores and introduce brand-new ones with new interiors. It’s been quite a project. Only Bal Harbour would undertake it.”

Hampton has a history of working with the Bal Harbour Shops. The center originally had just specialty stores on a single level. When department stores and a second level were added decades ago, he designed the expansion. Mostly, he works on museums, office buildings and residential buildings.

Before this latest construction at the mall, the second floor was “a straight shot all the way through, but now we’ve broken it up so passersby experience different views,” Hampton said. “Although we’ve always had water and pools on the first floor, this is the first time we’ve incorporated them into the look and feel of the second level.” Also, Barbara Neijna created a series of four minimalist sculptures in black bronze and stainless steel called “Garden,” and black louvres and orange trees in several areas are being added for protection from the sun.

The construction retains the original character of the center, marked by white brick and black metal, in a scheme that emphasizes the stores, rather than the mall architecture.

About a year ago, a similar project was completed on the first level, at a cost of about $3 million. While the first floor has a lush, tropical feel, with tall plants and pools, the upstairs will feel more like a contemporary sculpture garden. The upstairs project began in May 2003 by demolishing the guts of the B building at a cost of about $480,000. The building is in the center of the mall and once housed a Bonwit Teller, but now it accommodates specialty stores. The renovation is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving.

In June and July, Tiffany, Enrico shoes, Jiki for eveningwear, Just Cavalli and Biscote of Paris for flirty clothes all opened on the second level site. Tiffany relocated from the lower level.

Other stores opening along the 200-foot section between August and October are Addict for upscale athletic shoes and fashion sneakers, Vera for women’s apparel and Custo Barcelona sportswear.

The retailers had to rebuild their stores, incurring costs beyond the center’s, with the exception of Just Cavalli, Addict and Gusto, which are new to the floor. While their percentage rent would remain the same for most retailers on the second floor, those that had to scale back their stores will pay a reduced common area charge because they have less space.

Other stores moving elsewhere onto the second level by Thanksgiving are Calypso for different brands, Vilebrequin swimwear, Intermix and Charles Jourdan, which is moving up to the second floor from the first. Emporio Armani will move in early next year.

At one time, Whitman and his son, Randy, who serves as managing partner, considered putting a third anchor into the B building. Barneys New York, among other retailers, was considered years ago, but back then, Barneys ran into financial problems.

“Because we have such a huge demand for mall space, we gave up on the third anchor plan and decided to convert the old Bonwit Teller to mall store space,” Randy said.

On the lower level, Domenico Vacca men’s and ladies’ Italian clothing will open around Christmas; Marc Jacobs’ first shopping center store is a possibility and has a lease out, and the Whitmans are working to get a bigger Dolce & Gabbana store. Tod’s is definitely getting a larger location by relocating to part of the old Tiffany space, and David Yurman will open in about three months.

In a different kind of upgrade, Bal Harbour Shops, for stormy days, now has a reinforced plastic cloak that drapes over the mall openings, gets anchored to the concrete and encloses the mall like a cocoon to protect shoppers from the bad weather. It will be used instead of traditional hurricane shutters, which are burdensome to install, since they have to be delivered to each store, and interfere with business. With the new cloak, “we convert to an enclosed mall for a period of time,” Whitman said.