Designer show kicks off make-over of Vegas mall

Rouse is planning huge fashion center as its crown jewel

8 major store anchors

Retailing

May 23, 2000|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - The Rouse Co. kicked off a long-planned expansion yesterday of its sprawling Fashion Show mall on the famous Strip here, promising a make-over that will force even this flashy gambling mecca to take notice.

Despite its prime location on Las Vegas Boulevard, the suburban-style mall is overshadowed by its gaudier neighbors, including neon-lighted replicas of European landmarks, erupting volcanoes, fountains and pirate ships.

The $800 million expansion is expected to transform Fashion Show into one of the most unusual high-end shopping centers in the country and make it the crown jewel in Rouse's retail portfolio.

For its part, Rouse will spend $250 million on the project, which will make the center nearly twice the size of an average regional mall at 1.8 million square feet. Retailers will foot the rest of the bill.

Rouse set its plans in motion yesterday with an invitation-only gala with more than two dozen runway models showcasing designer Randolph Duke's collection of fall and showgirl-style fashions.

By Las Vegas standards, and in a competitive retail environment, size alone won't set Fashion Show apart. When Rouse completes the project in fall 2002, it is expected to have eight fashion-oriented department stores. And it will offer a platform for showcasing the latest fashions - both with regularly scheduled shows on a hydraulic-lift stage in the mall's "Great Room," and on Times Square-style video screens along Las Vegas Boulevard.

New anchors will include Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's Home - only the second of that format in the country. They will join Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Robinsons-May, Macy's and Dillard's. Saks will build a new store, more than double its current size, while the other department stores will expand to either 160,000 square feet or 200,000 square feet.

Nordstrom is expected to make Fashion Show the site of its much-anticipated arrival in Las Vegas, becoming the eighth department store anchor, though Rouse officials were mum on those plans yesterday.

With so many fashion department stores under one roof, "This represents a new generation of higher-end, fashion-oriented, major shopping center," said Anthony W. Deering, Rouse's president, chief executive officer and chairman.

To maximize the buzz in the retail and fashion industries, Rouse timed yesterday's groundbreaking with the start of the International Council of Shopping Centers annual convention in Las Vegas this week."This is a very important achievement for them," completing deals to bring in three new department stores, said David Fick, an analyst with Legg Mason in Baltimore. "There are only nine anchor chains in the country. If you have a center that has seven anchors, you have locked up the market. We think this thing will be a huge success."

Today, the center looks much like any suburban mall, with a food court, marble corridors and a lineup of specialty shops such as Banana Republic and J. Crew. But the clientele was not.

A group of shoppers trying on shoes in Saks spoke Japanese. Other shoppers toting full shopping bags spoke Spanish and German, and likely were among the 34 million visitors who come to Las Vegas each year to gamble and - more and more - to shop. Mall sales already are $520 per square foot, twice the national average.

Rouse officials believe that that's just a portion of sales the mall could capture based on the performance of some of the high-end, themed retail malls built in the past few years as part of casino and hotel resorts. But until now, the mall turned its back on The Strip by not doing much to attract tourists. With the additional stores and a higher profile, and thanks to strong growth in the visitor market, Deering said he anticipates sales of $700 to $800 per square foot."We could do fine like we are, but the opportunity uniquely exists to create a property unlike anything else," Deering said."We wanted something appropriate to Las Vegas but authentic. The thing we've got going for us is the fashion orientation and the name Fashion Show. It doesn't feel contrived."

Rouse began looking at ways to enhance the property four years ago, when it had a 75 percent interest in the mall as part of its 1996 acquisition of Las Vegas-based Howard Hughes Corp. Rouse bought Trizec Hahn's share in 1998 and launched plans to bring in two more anchors, said Jerome D. Smalley, executive vice president of development for Rouse. But officials decided they could redevelop it as more than another large retail center."It is a product introduction vehicle for the fashion industry, the Times Square of fashion," Smalley said. "It really is a physical and media platform that takes the deepest collection of retailers and positions them in front of 34 million visitors."

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