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Great Expectations

The Great Mall of The Great Plains brings value, entertainment -- and shoppers -- to the Midwest.

In August, in Olathe, Kan., more than 75,000 shoppers arrived at The Great Mall of The Great Plains to celebrate the opening of the region's first value entertainment center. By the end of September, more than 1.5 million visitors had frequented the center.

Developed by Glimcher Properties L.P. (an operating partnership of Columbus, Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust) and Denver-based Jordon Perlmutter & Co., The Great Mall of The Great Plains combines value shopping with a family- and entertainment-oriented environment. Ten anchors -- Dillard's Clearance (the retailer's first value-oriented venture), Oshman's SuperSports USA, Burlington Coat Factory, Kitchen & Company, Jeepers!, Linens 'N Things, Marshalls, Group USA, Foozles and Dickinson Theatres -- join more than 150 other tenants to complete the center's offerings.

With its opening, The Great Mall of The Great Plains joins the ranks of similarly formatted malls that, until now, were the sole domain of The Mills Corp., Arlington, Va. Building upon the success of its value-oriented developments, The Mills Corp. recently took the concept to a new level with Ontario Mills, a 2 million sq. ft. entertainment and retail project in Ontario, Calif. Located 40 miles east of Los Angeles, the mega-mall has become one of California's top tourist attractions.

The Great Mall of the Great Plains, located southwest of Kansas City, is poised for similar status in the Midwest. Glimcher Realty Trust reports that, as of late October, the 782,000 sq. ft. center had hosted or planned to host 86 motorcoach groups and seven convention groups, booked by the mall's in-house tourism office.

'Quick entree' A real estate investment trust, Glimcher Realty Trust owns and manages more than 116 retail properties in 24 states. However, the Great Mall of The Great Plains represents the REIT's foray into the value entertainment segment.

The opportunity arose when the center's original developer, Jordon Perlmutter & Co., required capital assistance to sustain the project. Glimcher Realty Trust stepped in with the financing, which it provided through a previously arranged joint venture with New York-based Nomura Capital Investments.

"The Great Mall was an opportunity that was already part way down the road," says Michael Glimcher, senior vice president of leasing for Glimcher Realty Trust. "We wanted to have something open and operating more quickly than we could get our other centers open. We were able to step in and gain a quick entree to the business."

Referring to the value entertainment format as a "hybrid product," Glimcher explains that the concept combines big-box retailers, manufacturers' outlets, value-oriented retailers and entertainment attractions. "When you look at retail today, there are a lot of people across the street from a regional mall shopping in power centers," he says. "Our idea is to bring these customers into the mall environment by putting as much sales volume under one roof as possible."

With that in mind, Glimcher Properties L.P. has signed tenants spanning all retail categories. In addition to the anchors, the roster includes: MacVirdie Golf, GNC, Black & Decker Outlet, Dress Barn, Paper Factory, Eddie Bauer, Gothic Shop, RadioShack Outlet, Perfumania and K-B Toy Outlet, to name only a few.

To further engage shoppers, The Great Mall of The Great Plains includes entertainment and restaurant elements in its lineup. For example, at Johnny Rockets, the wait staff sings and dances for customers; at Jeepers!, children can play on a tubular maze, ride amusement park rides or play laser tag; and in the common area, children and parents can wander through a virtual zoo.

Throughout the common area, and in each of the stores, customers can log onto the Metronet, a computer system that gives users access to mall directions, sales information and ticket reservations for the 16-screen theater complex.

A 'defined' design With enormous variety in retailers, The Great Mall of The Great Plains was designed not only to organize its offerings but also to create an energetic atmosphere that would entice shoppers to extend their stay. "An important part of the design concept is to provide an environment that people can get involved in," says David Peterhans, a principal with Farmington Hills, Mich.-based JPRA/Peterhansrea, which designed The Great Mall of The Great Plains. "We call this design approach 'festive commercial.'

"It's more like a trade show setting than a typical shopping center," he says of the concept. "The idea is to hit people over the head with commercial ideas -- get in their faces with the presentation."

The Great Mall of The Great Plains lands its first blows at the entrances. The rectangular center is positioned west to east, and four entrances located more or less at the corners of the rectangle organize the center's retail offerings.

The west end of the mall has an entrance for "Techtainment" and "Sports and Adventure" areas. "Fashion and Home" and "Hobby" entrances lie at the east end of the center.

Each entrance features large, bold graphics made of corrugated metal structures. Atop the metal structures, giant billboards with black-and-white lifestyle photographs project into the parking lots. "The entrances knife into the mall," Peterhans says.

Each entrance was created with its own color, and, once the customer is inside, the color continues on the interior to define specific retail sections. For example, the Techtainment area features hot red colors to generate energy; Sports and Adventure features a rust color to connote a grittier quality; Fashion is coded with sunflower yellow; and Home and Hobby is marked by teal.

As on the exterior, lifestyle billboards adorn the interior, leading shoppers through the mall. The design also features high, open ceilings to create a sense of space and energy.

Inside the mall, stores are laid out on a one-half mile common area racetrack corridor. Patterned carpet with rubber backing provides comfort for shoppers, and, like the mall's colors, the carpet patterns change to reflect specific themes.

For the retailers, Peterhans designed glass storefronts overlaid with independent entry portal structures defining the store entrances. The structures include signage, which Peterhans designed for 90 percent of the center's tenants. "We used the retailers' logos in the signage, but we adapted it to our systems, which change in the different areas of the mall," he says.

As in any mall, the store fronts at The Great Mall of The Great Plains maintain a sense of uniformity. However, Glimcher notes that tenants do have some creative liberties.

"Instead of trying to force everything behind the lease line, we encouraged the retailers to be creative, to do things differently and move out beyond the lease line," Glimcher says. He adds that Johnny Rockets has extended its restaurant beyond the lease line by providing patio-style seating in the common area.

The common area also boasts a food court, where a farmers' market theme is executed with striped awnings over each of the tenant spaces. Pine fencing forms the sign bands, accented with neon lighting.

The court also is lit by a skylight emitting natural light through thin, draped fabric. Finally, unlike most food courts, The Great Mall of The Great Plains provides booth seating for customers.

Expanding market area Whereas traditional malls target middle and upper-middle markets within a 15- to 30-mile radius of the property, value entertainment malls seek to draw middle-market families from a radius of 60 miles or more. As a result, says Glimcher, marketing has to be unconventional.

"A traditional mall becomes a customer's local mall -- the one where he or she shops regularly. A traditional mall will draw from a smaller radius, but customers will make frequent trips," Glimcher explains.

"Because of its entertainment and price offerings, centers like The Great Mall will draw from a larger ring, but customers will visit less frequently," he continues. "At a value mega-mall, we are borrowing customers from traditional malls, not taking them away."

Glimcher Realty Trust projects that The Great Mall of The Great Plains will eventually "borrow" as many as 20 million shoppers per year from other malls in the region. Furthermore, the demographics for the target market are strong.

For example, within 5 miles of the center, a population of nearly 79,000 people earns a median household income of $45,653. At 20 miles, the population rises to 814,000, and median household income stands at $39,790. Within the 60-mile radius, there are 2.2 million people with median household incomes of $35,683. The 60-mile market is "in the bag," says Glimcher, adding that a 120-mile market area is not out of reach.

Because of the entertainment and dining offerings at The Great Mall of The Great Plains, Glimcher Realty Trust expects customers to spend more time at the center than they would at a traditional mall. To drive ongoing interest, the REIT plans to add another entertainment anchor by 1999. That expansion, along with the addition of several more restaurants, will bring the mall to its fully planned size of 1 million sq. ft.

Has Glimcher created the mall of the future? It already is developing similar projects in Elizabeth, N.J., and Los Angeles.

According to Michael Glimcher, the REIT plans to continue its expansion in conventional and value entertainment arenas. "We see opportunities in both areas," he says.

Michael Fickes is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Owned by: Glimcher Realty Trust, Columbus, Ohio, and Jordon Perlmutter & Co., Denver

Managed by: Glimcher Properties L.P., Columbus, Ohio

Contractor: Koll Construction, Olathe, Kan.

Architect: JPRA/Peterhansrea, Farmington Hills, Mich.

Roofing consultants: Factory Mutual, Olathe, Kan., and MCES, Delaware, Ohio

Roofing: Harrington Roofing Co., Kansas City, Kan.

Flooring (carpet): Durkan Patterned Carpet Inc., Dalton, Ga.

Structural consultants: Ehlert/Bryan Inc., Southfield, Mich.

Mechanical consultants: Hadji & Associates, Denver

Civil engineer: Green Engineering, Olathe, Kan.

Landscape consultant: David Krause & Associates, Birmingham, Mich.

Landscape architect: Jeffrey L. Bruce & Co., Independence, Mo.

Landscaping: H&R Landscape, Stilwell, Kan.

Signage: Mott Signs, Olathe, Kan.

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