William Taubman barely made it to the grand opening of International Plaza 10 years ago.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks and an approaching hurricane made it tricky for the chief operating officer of Taubman Centers Inc., the Detroit developer that opened the mall, to travel across Florida from Miami.
A $15-a-day rental car helped him make it just in time, though the crowd was thin.
"Fortunately, we arrived too late to hear my brother sing the national anthem," Taubman said, referring to his older brother, Robert, who heads the company that owns a 50.1 percent share of the mall.
Taubman, 52, was back Wednesday and talked to the Times at lunch about where the 1.2 million-square-foot International Plaza goes from here, how his company attains the industry's top sales productivity and whether malls are really the dinosaurs so many people keep predicting they will become.
Did you think International Plaza was going to be as successful as it is?
I always believed in the property, but I didn't think it would be as successful as it has turned out. It's the dominant upper moderate to designer mall in the Tampa Bay market, a strong performer that continues to take market share from other malls despite this economy. And its sales rank in the top quarter among all our 26 properties.
Taubman malls averaged sales of $600 a square foot in an industry where $385 per square foot is standard. That was up from $564 a year ago. How do you do that?
We set a long-range vision for each property every year, then are ruthless about making it reality. It takes years. We study sales of each of our 22 categories of merchandise to enlarge the strong and weed out the weak. We use shorter leases for a faster churn to keep the lineup fresh. We're always moving stores around to adjust their size to demand.
That's how each of the last four years we had room to bring in 20 new retailers here including an H&M that opens this fall in space that held five stores. Next year, we'll expand Forever XXI, one of the first XXI design stores the Forever 21 chain opened.
It's not all chains. We have many successful locals like Fit2Run, which is sharing a space with Urban Outfitters that started out as Kahunaville. There have been three Italian restaurants in the space now occupied by Brio.
Your Salt Lake City mall is the only mall under construction in the United States. You plan to open four to five of the 10 to 15 new malls projected nationwide over the next five years. How do you answer those who say malls are a dying industry?
I've been hearing the "death of the mall" stories since I got into the business. The reality is there are great well-executed malls and mediocre ones. We've stayed in the more upscale end that's less affected by the housing market and more sensitive to the Dow Jones average.
We have always been mall developers but are one of very few left because the rest became mall acquirers. We're still in development because we have the talent, understand the finances and have relationships with retailers who want to be in malls.
How does the Internet play in the mall industry?
It's playing a big role in the continuing evolution of malls as a source of entertainment for shoppers. People do their homework and comparison shop online so stores are getting more like showrooms. They may not shop as many stores. There may be too many stores out there, but consolidating them favors malls that dominate a local market. In Denver, Pottery Barn left two stores in favor of a new, larger one in our mall.
What about the IP space vacated by Robb & Stucky furniture going out of business?
It will be six months before we get a handle, so I don't know. It could be cut up into one or several speciality stores. I would not count out a department store yet (Bloomingdale's, for instance, has started signing deals for smaller stores). We may even tear it down and start over.
You wrote off an $8 million investment for a 25 percent stake in University Town Center, a mall proposed on Interstate 75 in Sarasota that was to have a Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus but was killed by the recession. Will it come back to life?
We'll decide in four or five months. It depends on partners who control the site, what the department stores want and the fact we would need a new site plan approved for a smaller project adjusted to the new normal of the economy.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.