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Guest donaltopablo

Jacksonville upscale mall not happening?

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I know a lot of upscale malls are getting killed lately, including at least one here in Atlanta.

Upscale mall unlikely

Jane Bennett

SOUTHSIDE -- When developers first began touting St. Johns Town Center several years ago, they bandied about names of such high-end retailers as Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

But as the long-delayed mall approaches reality, the companies being signed up are decidedly more middlebrow: Dillard's, Barnes & Noble and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Those are the three major tenants that signed leases by July 31, the day Simon Property Group in Indianapolis and partner Ben Carter Properties of Atlanta finally bought the 207 acres at J. Turner Butler Boulevard and St. Johns Bluff Road from the A.C. Skinner family for about $18 million.

"Those are just the three we were ready to announce," said Paisley Boney, president of Ben Carter Properties. "In about 30 days, we're going to announce all the other tenants at once. That's the way we've chosen to do it, rather than announce one at a time."

Boney would not disclose any names on the list of yet-to-be-announced tenants for the 1.5 million feet of retail space, but Nordstrom likely isn't among them.

"Nordstrom was in an expansion mode when the mall was announced in 2000," said Geneva Henderson, executive vice president of commercial real estate firm Lat Purser & Associates Inc. "Then came 9/11 and the rest is history. A lot of the stores pulled back."

Indeed, Nordstrom isn't opening soon anywhere, according to a Standard & Poor's research report. Nordstrom will cut back on expansion in the next three years and instead spend money on upgrading existing operations, it said.

Simon Property also owns The Avenues mall on Southside Boulevard and Orange Park Mall on Blanding Boulevard. But St. Johns Town Center brings a new look to Jacksonville's shopping centers.

"We wanted a 'Main Street' feeling with lots of places for people to walk," said Billie Scott, Simon's spokeswoman, about the coming open-air "lifestyle" mall.

"Simon has centers with all kinds of tenants," said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "Retailers do their own homework. It depends on the demographics of a particular area. They want to know if their customer lives there."

They're also concerned with the age of the population, occupations and earnings and whether there's much tourism, he said.

The Mall at Millenia, which opened last October in Orlando, is hurting Jacksonville's chances of landing upscale department stores, retail experts say. That mall has as anchors such coveted high-end retailers as Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Neiman Marcus. Tampa and Orlando remain more attractive to high-end retailers than Jacksonville, according to brokers.

The bottom line is the income level and the amount of discretionary income in Jacksonville, said Bob Allsbrook, chief economist for AmSouth Bank. "It's not something that reflects well or badly on the area," he said. "It's just dollars and how fast they're growing."

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I don't think the Jacksonville market can support upscale stores like Saks right now. However, I think this development will be good for JAX considering that there are only 3 regional malls in the whole metro area and no lifestyle centers that I know of. This open air "town center" concept has become very popular in Central & South Florida and it will be a nice and unique retail concept in the Jax market.

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I think when done properly the open air style mall can be a decent way to develop mall style retail without having to fit in the mold of a standard "regional mall"

As for Jacksonville's ability to support high end retail, I'm not sure the numbers on income figures, but I think Jacksonville could support at least a limited number of these types of stores. I think they would depend a little on traffic coming in from places like Savannah and St Augustine and other surround areas, but should be able to support some of these stores. Just my guess on what I've seen/known of the area.

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