Retail Traffic

Happy New Year

If 1997 isn't going quite the way you had hoped, relax. You've got another shot at making (and sticking to) the resolutions usually saved for the beginning of a new year. You see, the shopping center industry celebrates the New Year twice -- once in January and then again in May with the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Spring Convention.

The convention ushers in new development plans, new retailers, new products, new financing, new research and new partnerships. The convention hall itself is filled with new booth designs, fresh leasing brochures and state-of-the-art architectural models. With two New Year celebrations each year, resolutions can be made twice as often.

A resolution by definition implies that a future action is necessary. But what is there to change in the shopping center industry? Here are a few sample resolutions:

Resolution #1: Define entertainment retail to the satisfaction of at least 75 percent of the industry.

Resolution #2: Keep up with the consolidation of shopping center owners and real estate services firms.

Resolution #3: Participate in government affairs either through ICSC or independently, locally or federally, because it is our right and responsibility as U.S. citizens.

Resolution #4: Do not be so busy in the office that you neglect to visit shopping centers and patronize stores.

Resolution #5: Research which international opportunities (The United Kingdom, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, South America, China, Hong Kong, South Africa, etc.) are really do-able.

Resolution #6: Really study what happened and is happening with the department stores. There are lessons to be learned there.

Resolution #7: Educate investors that not every retail deal should be painted with the same "retail is overbuilt" brush.

Resolution #8: Visit New York City's revitalized retail areas.

Resolution #9: Compare stadium seating to traditional movie theater seating.

Resolution #10: Explore cyberspace as both a product and a service.

Resolution #11: Integrate temporary tenants seamlessly within the center.

Resolution #12: Collect as much consumer data as possible as often as possible.

If you have not taken advantage of your second chance at change, take it now; you're entitled!

Universal Mall Turns A Storefront Into A Schoolroom Universal Mall, in Warren, Mich., along with Southfield, Mich.-based Comcast Cablevision and Washington, D.C.-based Nostalgia Television, recently hosted Homework Helpers, an educational program that provides free tutoring to schoolchildren in fourth through eighth grades.

The event ran between March 25 and April 19, with tutoring sessions held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Tutors for the program were former teachers, engineers and other retired professionals from the local chapter of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program).

"The event gave us the opportunity to involve community members of all ages, from students and their parents to the senior tutors," says Christine Palmer, marketing director for Universal Mall, which is managed by Chicago-based LaSalle Partners Management Ltd.

Homework Helpers is the brainchild of Nostalgia Television, a cable channel that focuses on programming for the post-49-year-old audience. "We take our role as active community members seriously," says Squire D. Rushnell, president and chief executive officer of the company. "We must all be a part of our children's education."

Nostalgia approached Comcast with the idea for Homework Helpers; Comcast then selected 621,000 sq. ft. Universal Mall as the location for the two-week-long program. According to Diane Dietz, regional director of legal, government and public affairs for Comcast, the choice of Universal Mall was based primarily on the center's location and the mall management's openness to the program.

"Universal Mall is centrally located in a trade area that has the kind of family-oriented demographics that are most likely to participate in such a program," says Dietz.

"In addition, the management at the center was just phenomenal. They met with their merchants and came up with a plan that made this project a reality."

Universal Mall donated the use of a vacant storefront for the project, and its merchant association provided the funds needed to create colorful banners and signs used to decorate the space.

In addition to pencils, notebooks and mousepads that the cable companies gave to program participants, each student was registered in a drawing to win prizes and gift certificates donated by mall tenants.

To promote Homework Helpers, event organizers spoke to local school district superintendents and school principals, and Nostalgia Television created commercials that ran regularly on local television and radio stations. In addition, the publicity and press releases generated several television news reports about the program.

"Considering that this was the first event of its kind in the area, we had a very good response," says Palmer.

"The total attendance for the two weeks was approximately 150 students."

Palmer says Homework Helpers will become a regular event at the mall, and she hopes to start another session possibly as soon as this summer.

"We learned a lot from the first session of Homework Helpers," she says. "The next time around, we will do more in-school promotions and really target the classroom teachers and their students.

"Also, we will be sure to line up more math tutors. It seemed that almost everyone who came in needed help with math.

"There are many directions we can take with this service," she adds. "This could be an event that grows not only at our center but elsewhere in the community."

-- Mary Kay McCune

Sears Roebuck Leads Top 10 Advertisers Competitive Media Reporting (CMR), a New York-based advertising tracking firm, reports that Sears Roebuck & Co. outspent its competition in retail advertising last year. During the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, 1996, Sears spent $555.2 million on advertising, up nearly $30 million since 1995. The CMR figures reflect advertising dollars spent in magazines, Sunday magazines, newspapers, national newspapers, outdoor, network television, spot television, syndicated television, cable television, net radio and national spot radio.

For 1996, Sears reduced its advertising in magazines, spot television and network radio, and expanded its presence substantially in network, syndicated and cable television. Federated Department Stores Inc., May Department Stores Co., Circuit City Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Dayton Hudson Corp., Kmart Corp., Tandy Corp., Best Buy Co. Inc. and Dillard Department Stores Inc. round out the top 10 retail advertisers for 1996. Federated, which spent less in 1996 than in 1995 for advertising, relies heavily on newspapers as its primary advertising medium. Circuit City, meanwhile, boosted its spending by more than $80.5 million, using most of the extra funds for additional exposure in newspapers and on television.

CenterAmerica Reinvests In Texas Neighborhoods CenterAmerica Property Trust, Houston, is moving ahead with plans to redevelop dozens of neighborhood shopping centers throughout Texas. Of the company's portfolio, comprising 107 centers, 25 to 30 centers are "in some kind of a reinvestment mode," says Scott MacDonald, president and chief executive officer for CenterAmerica.

The redevelopment program, entitled "Reinvesting In Your Neighborhood," was launched last year. Four projects have been completed, while others are in various stages of planning, construction and/or tenant negotiation.

The targeted centers are located in older, established neighborhoods that have been overlooked by traditional investors. In many cases, the centers are functionally obsolete or even vacant.

In the Greater Houston area, where most of the redevelopment projects are located, CenterAmerica recently completed renovation of Merchants Park. MacDonald reports that the 50-year-old center and its anchor -- a Kroger store -- were outdated and undersized.

"The Kroger store was not doing a lot of volume because the people wanted something better," he says. Together, CenterAmerica and Kroger built a new signature Kroger store, increasing its size and putting it in a "much better environment," MacDonald explains.

Additionally, CenterAmerica refaced Merchants Park and added new amenities to the 250,000 sq. ft. center. "It looks like a new center," says MacDonald, adding that Kroger's sales since the upgrade are "spectacular."

CenterAmerica has completed similar changes at the following centers:

* The Crossings at Fry Road in Katy. The 220,000 sq. ft. center was redeveloped when three anchors went dark. "Wal-mart moved out, a local grocery store closed, and a local clothing store filed for Chapter 11 and rejected that lease," MacDonald explains. Today, the center is 100 percent leased, and new anchors include Kroger, Hobby Lobby and SteinMart.

* Pearland Plaza in Pearland. The center was renovated when Kmart vacated its space. "You run into a lot of vacant big boxes as people move around," says MacDonald. The 150,000 sq. ft. center is now anchored by Kroger, Palais Royal (a Houston-based clothing store) and a freestanding Walgreens drug store.

* Braes Heights Shopping Center on Bellaire Boulevard in Houston. Anchored by Eckerd, the 110,000 sq. ft. center was renovated and is home to CenterAmerica's corporate offices. "We moved our corporate offices into the vacant second floor," says MacDonald. "We've made a commitment not only with our capital but with our presence."

In many cases, CenterAmerica is reinvesting in areas that also have been targeted by local city and county governments for infrastructure improvements.

"In the case of Houston -- and it applies to some of the other cities as well -- the city has gone into most of these neighborhoods and tried to upgrade them through infrastructure [streets, sewage, drainage] investments," says MacDonald. "The city has made, on their own, public investments in neighborhoods, and then we've come in and made private capital investments in shopping centers.

"To the extent that there is a neighborhood shopping center that has become a bit downtrodden, that is a real detriment to neighborhood reinvestment," he adds. "I think by upgrading these centers and bringing quality retail, what we're seeing is that the neighborhoods themselves are upgrading, and people are reinvesting."

MacDonald notes that The Heights -- the area surrounding Merchants Park -- is taking on a new vitality. "It is undergoing a real comeback in terms of younger people moving in and fixing up houses," he says.

As a result of "Reinvesting in Your Neighborhoods," CenterAmerica is anticipating strong returns for its investors. "We've had the ability to look back on some of the [projects] that have already been completed, and the financial returns to our investors have been excellent," MacDonald reports.

"I think it's a great program for shopping center owners and operators to go into these older neighborhoods and reinvest," he adds. "It's nothing we're doing for charity; we're doing it to make money. But the consequence is that the neighborhoods are significantly upgraded.

"I'm pleased that we're doing as much as we're doing, and I would encourage others to do it," he notes.

-- Beth Wade

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