Clash of the Titans: Regional Mall REITs Fight for Limited Outlet Development Opportunities May 9, 2012 12:54 PM, By Elaine Misonzhnik, Senior Associate Editor In the fall of 2010 executives with Taubman Centers Inc., a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based regional mall REIT, began talking about the REIT’s new avenue for growth: outlet centers.
More Latest News Taubman had recently completed the conversion of its Great Lakes Crossing property in Auburn Hills, Mich., a 1.35-million-sq.-ft. enclosed regional mall, into Great Lakes Crossing Outlets. Taubman was able to sign up many tenants that were not present elsewhere in Michigan, including Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Disney Store Outlet and Rainforest Café. Great Lakes Crossing Outlets was attracting both local shoppers and Canadians from across the Detroit River. As a result, the center’s sales per sq. ft. numbers rose significantly, company officials said during earnings calls. The success in Auburn Hills helped convince Taubman’s management to capitalize on additional outlet center opportunities. Besides, in a market saturated with fortress malls and lifestyle centers, outlet centers represented one of the last opportunities for ground-up construction. Robert S. Taubman, the REIT’s chairman, president and CEO, laid out a goal of developing from five to 10 outlet centers in the span of a decade. Among the first such undertakings Taubman pursued was a site in Manvel, Texas, near Houston. The site seemed a good fit for Taubman’s target outlet center sales level of at least $400 per sq. ft. The median household income in Manvel is $65,864 a year, more than $15,000 higher than the median household income for the state as a whole. In addition, the town’s proximity to Houston would give Taubman access to 2 million potential shoppers. Taubman’s Texas ambitions, however, did not pan out. Both Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, a Greensboro, N.C.-based REIT that specializes in outlet center development, and Simon Property
Group, the largest retail landlord in the country in both the regional mall and outlet center arenas, had laid claims to outlet center development sites in nearby Texas City, just 22 miles away. According to brokers familiar with the market, the greater Houston area could not support two, let alone three, outlet centers.
In June 2011, Simon and Tanger took a decisive step to win the market by announcing that they would partner to build a 350,000-sq.-ft. joint development in Texas City under Tanger’s brand name. It marked the first joint venture development partnership in Tanger’s history. Ultimately, the two firms decided to work together on one large outlet center rather than spend money fighting each other, says Michael Rodenas, principal with Rodenas Consulting, a national consulting firm that specializes in shopping centers and malls. As a result, Taubman quietly retreated from the market. In July 2011, while discussing the company’s earnings for the second quarter, Robert Taubman admitted to analysts that outlets constitute “a very competitive space. It’s a very competitive world out there in development generally.” He reiterated the company’s commitment to investing in outlet centers both in U.S. and in Asia, but refused to discuss the Texas project. The Houston saga wasn’t the only time Taubman and Simon came to loggerheads in the outlet space. In early April, Simon and Taubman each issued press releases about competing outlet center projects in Chesterfield, Mo., another market where trade area demographics seem to dictate that only one outlet development can succeed. On Apr. 3, Simon revealed that Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th agreed to anchor its St. Louis Premium Outlets, an outlet center slated to contain at least 350,000 sq. ft. of space. (St. Louis Premium Outlets is a product of a joint...