Westfield Brandon has a new owner.
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield announced Thursday it sold the Brandon shopping mall for $220 million, according to a news release.
North American Development Group, a West Palm Beach-based real estate firm, bought the Brandon mall as Paris-based Westfield aims to offload all its American retail properties. The company announced last year it was exiting the mall business in the U.S.
The Brandon mall was not only the last Westfield mall in the Tampa Bay area but also in Florida. Westfield lost the Citrus Park Town Center and Countryside Mall after nearing foreclosure in 2020.
The sale of the 1.15 million-square-foot mall had a 10% yield for Westfield, according to the release. So far, Westfield said it recovered $1.6 billion from selling its U.S. assets.
The Brandon mall has an 84.5% store occupancy, according to Westfield, and has been one of the busiest malls in the region in terms of foot traffic.
The new owners did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its plans for the Brandon mall.
Why is Westfield leaving the U.S.?
Westfield was originally an Australian company before Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco bought it for nearly $16 billion in 2018. In 2022, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s CEO, Jean-Marie Tritant, told investors that he aimed to sell off U.S. properties by the end of 2023.
Westfield now has less than 20 locations in the U.S. after this sale.
Malls have struggled with the rise of online shopping and through the pandemic. Brick-and-mortar retail centers have focused on enhancing the experience by adding entertainment and activities, said Mike Milano, a Tampa executive vice president at commercial real estate firm Colliers.
“When the pandemic hit, that really changed a lot,” Milano said.
Malls like the ones owned by Westfield couldn’t recover fast enough with changing shopper preferences, he said.
As Westfield continues to sell off malls to invest more in its operations in Europe, Milano said it saved its more premier locations like the Brandon mall at 459 Brandon Town Center Drive for last.
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The Brandon mall has done better than most
The mall east of Tampa first opened in 1995 as the Brandon Town Center off of Interstate 75 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
Westfield bought the property along with the Citrus Park and Countryside malls in 2002 and renamed it Westfield Shoppingtown Brandon. By 2005, Westfield dropped “Shoppingtown” from the name.
The Brandon mall is arguably the second-best-performing mall in the region after International Plaza, said Brian Bern, managing director of retail services at Tampa-based Franklin Street.
It bucked the trends of many of the industry’s problems, Bern said, as it’s located in a booming suburb along a prominent interstate and serves a wider area of south and east Hillsborough County.
The average American regional mall had 1.7 million visits between May 2022 and May 2023, according to cellphone location data from Placer.ai provided by Franklin Street. Westfield Brandon is among the top 5% of regional malls in the U.S., with about 6.9 million visits, the data shows. Traffic was down in Brandon about 8.2% from the year before.
“A lot of retailers and restaurants do very well there. That mall is going nowhere,” Bern said. “It just needs to continue to evolve as malls will do but that is one that should survive and stick around for many more years.”
While it’s likely the purchase price of $220 million could have been higher if Westfield sold it earlier, when inflation and interests rates weren’t as high, Bern said the profits from the stores likely made up for it.
It’s also good for the mall and local shoppers that a Florida-based company now owns it. They can invest more than a conglomerate based abroad could, Bern said.
North American Development Group has more than $5 billion in assets around the country, including the Seminole City Center and strip malls in Clearwater and Tampa.
“It’s a group that’s familiar and actually owns other assets throughout Florida and really invested in trying to upgrade them to the next level,” Bern said. “Westfield has definitely run their course and Brandon is a fantastic mall.”