The retail industry has a million stories and stars. These are just a few of the many who will be setting the agenda going forward, from designers to financiers and, of course, the mall owners and retailers themselves. We chose, in alphabetical order, mixed-use impresario Kenneth Himmel; urban re-animator Victor MacFarlane; tenant's best friend Jim Napoli; money maven Kathleen Nelson; retail scientist Paul Pressler; creative branding wizard David Rockwell; design visionary Jay Valgora; apparel Pied Piper Greg Weaver.

Kenneth Himmel : Taking Retail To New Heights
When Kenneth Himmel developed the first vertical mall, Chicago's Water Tower Place in 1976, skeptics questioned how high people would go to shop. The answer was: Eight floors.

Now, New Yorkers are asking the same question. Can a vertical mall, soon to open in the Columbus Center, better known as the AOL/Time Warner complex, achieve success in a city where others have failed. But the CEO of Related Urban Developments isn't worried. He simply reminds skeptics that 25 million people pass through the Water Tower, which generates $700 of retail sales per square foot, every year.

The challenge, he acknowledges, is getting pedestrian traffic circulating through the project's Mandarin Hotel and retail space. That's one reason the development includes a jazz center, expected to draw 2 million people a year. While there, they can shop and eat at restaurants run by celebrity chefs Thomas Keller, Gray Kunz, Masa Takayama and Jean-Georges Vongerichten on the fourth floor. "To my eye, the entire design for Columbus Center is infused with the spirit of jazz," -Herbert Muschamp, The New York Times architecture critic has said.

As for shopping, tenants include Tourneau, Williams-Sonoma, Coach, Hugo Boss, Borders Books, Aveda, Armani and Whole Foods. Himmel says Related Urban, the retail portion of Steve Ross's Urban Related properties, is actively working on half a dozen projects in the United States and is considering taking its expertise overseas. "We've been approached about a mixed use project on mainland China."

Victor MacFarlane: Following the Population
While still a student at UCLA Law School, Victor MacFarlane made his first real estate investment-$10,000 in a triplex apartment.

That was then. Now, as head of privately-held MacFarlane Partners, he shepherds $1 billion in company equity and $5 billion of assets for institutional investors. Recently, with the California Public Employees' Retirement System as a partner, the firm acquired a 49.5 stake in the retail shops at the AOL/Time Warner building.

This investment reflects what he's been doing all along-concentrating development dollars where his projects can combine existing urban infrastructure such as public transportation with new construction to, "he says, "provide a place where people can live, work, and play." This is just on a much grander scale.

Related is impressed "He is entrepreneurial, problem solving and they get to the heart of the deal very quickly and figure out whether it's for them or not," says Marty Burger, Related executive vice president. That includes more East Coast neighborhoods. MacFarlane says he is working on an RFP with four other firms to develop a site in Washington D.C. He's also eyeing "several sites" in New York, including one in Battery Park City.

MacFarlane foresees an increase of 50 million people in 20 years. And he thinks much of the population will congregate in urban neighborhoods, where, consequently, shopping demand will be strongest.

"Victor is definitely not working for money," says Greg Vilkin, president of Forest City Residential West Inc., which worked with MacFarlane on a California shopping mall. "He loves doing the deals. It's his way of keeping score."

Jim Napoli: Seeing The Future In Europe
In August, it was just short of three months since The Mills Corp. had completed two impressive additions to its portfolio: a 50 percent interest in Georgia's Gwinnett Place, with 1.3 million square feet of gross leasable area, and a similar arrangement for Town Center at Cobb malls, a super regional mall also with about 1.3 million gross leasable square feet. It also had recently broken for Vaughan Mills near Toronto.

So Jim Napoli was asked, "What's next?"

While Napoli sees a future in which regional malls "can only expand, with more interactive and entertainment based attractions such as skate parks, restaurants and theaters," his greatest enthusiasm is reserved for Europe.

Napoli, who's had five jobs during his 30 years in real estate-most recently 13 years as executive vice president and director of real estate for Simon Properties-is messianic about opportunities across the pond. And Mills is taking a lead in investing abroad.

"We think Spain and Italy today are very good marketplaces for us," said Napoli. "We were the first retail REIT to open a retail mall in Spain," the Xanadu mixed use entertainment and retail complex in Madrid. "We built it, leased it, managed it, did it ourselves," with the company's only partner a land partner.

And there's more to come. "We believe we will be able to move forward and get some projects moving shortly-a few more in Spain and a number of sites in Italy that we've been working on. Plus there are some other countries that have some interest for us. This is a very exciting time."

Kathleen Nelson: Holding The Purse Strings
Kathleen Nelson, head of the $40 billion mortgage and real estate portfolio of private pension fund TIAA, $6 billion of which is retail, is the first financial services industry executive to head the ICSC and only the second woman.

Her fingerprints can be found on almost every major regional mall development in the past few decades, from the Mall of America to the Mall of Georgia. And though TIAA underwrites as a longterm lender and holder, Nelson is not afraid to cut bait when her team's research tells her an investment has reached its full potential.

International investments are one way TIAA will expand business in coming years. Though currency conversion issues and finding the right local joint venture partner are significant hurdles, TIAA has invested $1.2 billion in Western Europe. And just last month, TIAA teamed up with Canadian pension fund OMERS and Toronto-based developer RioCan to form a $356.4 million joint venture to buy underperforming Canadian retail centers and reposition them by converting them into power centers and adding big-box tenants.

Nelson assumes the chairmanship of ICSC at a critical time, as states look to reduce their budget deficits by raising taxes on retail properties and new developments. Luckily, she has plenty of experience dealing with politicians. She recently lobbied Congress on behalf of ICSC in its successful bid for terrorism insurance protection. Nelson was there at the White House when President Bush signed the bill into law.

Paul Pressler: From the Sublime to Meijer
Paul Pressler's acceptance of the CEO post at Gap Inc. in September 2002 signaled a new direction for the embattled retailer, which took 30 years to get to $1 billion in profits and only two years to get to zero. After a second quarter that saw comps rise 10 percent, business is on the upswing. Some say the turnaround is due to actions taken before Pressler replaced longtime Gap vet Mickey Drexler. So what exactly is the first outsider to run the giant bringing to the table?

A dose of science to temper the art of apparel retailing. Drexler was known for flying by the seat of his Gap jeans, handpicking merchandise, poo-pooing consumer research and focusing on sales as a primary driver of shareholder value. Pressler, a favorite son at Disney for 15 years, is more of a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. After just sixth months, he had ratcheted up targeted consumer marketing, introduced strategic planning, closed stores to reduce debt and put together a management dream team made up of seasoned Gap creative types and ex-Disney number crunchers.

He's eager to expand Gap's international business, find profitable new concepts to extend the company's three divisions. He's also taking supply chain management and distribution to the next level. As for real estate strategy, Pressler is relying on cutting-edge software to select which stores to close (he's committed to shuttering 2 percent of Gap's square footage by year's end) and which markets are best suited for a slimmed-down, more segmented version of Old Navy.

Jay Valgora: From A to V Studio, Valgora Does It All
WalkerGroup/CNI, under the design direction of Jay Valgora, defies categorization. Take, for example, the disparity between two recent commissions. One is to help resurrect the artsy Brooklyn neighborhood known as Dumbo, for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, by reviving seven abandoned buildings that date back to the Civil War; the other to design a sophisticated new chain of shops for Playboy.

Playboy wants "elegant "stores, he says. "It all about their brand, the Playboy lifestyle." For the Dumbo Empire Stores project, meanwhile, multidisciplinary WalkerGroup will give new life to the ageing exterior and create a modern interior, while retaining the classic design elements from the buildings' past. The 1.3 million-square-feet mixed-use project will include retail tenants, cafes and cultural facilities-such as art studios, galleries, a public library and performance spaces.

A visionary, with a Harvard Master's in Architecture and international experience gained as a Fulbright Fellow in England, Valgora recently oversaw WalkerGroup's development of a new division, V Studio, to take on edgier, experimental projects. "We're designing an iconoclastic TV studio for Fuse (an online music video network)," says Valgora.

WalkerGroup won two Retail Traffic SADI Awards this year: The grand prize for turning a 12-feet-wide parcel of land in Tokyo's Ginza District into a big brand statement for Lladro, the Spanish porcelain figurine maker. And, Editors' Choice, for the Max Ocio Commercial Center in Bilbao, Spain.

"Retail design needs to stand out," Valgora says. "It needs to grab shoppers and offer choices."

Greg Weaver : An Ear Cocked for the Fickle Fancies of Youth
Pacific Sunwear had 11 stores in 1987 when Greg Weaver joined the firm from British designer Jaeger Sportswear. Since then, the surf-inspired teen retailer has sprouted stores, profits and stock splits like an amoeba on hormones-thanks to Weaver, admirers say. "He is creative, forward looking and lives his passion," says Bob Michaels, president of General Growth Partners. His passion is Pacific Sunwear.

In August, shares split three-for-two, the sixth split in seven years. A month earlier, comp sales were up 15.1 percent. This led to a boost in earnings estimates, making the company a conspicuously booming phenomenon in a still-sluggish retail market.

The 23-year-old company has 840 stores, including 112 in its hip-hop oriented D.E.M.O. division. Pacific Sunwear plans to add 86 new stores and expand 30 existing ones by the end of the year. Only two closed, when an experiment in moving D.E.M.O. from mall to urban sidewalks failed to get the returns he desires. Weaver quickly corrected the error and moved on to what works so well for him.

How does Weaver do it? "By listening," he says. The company runs frequent focus groups where panels of kids subject to fickle fads get asked "tons of questions" about their lifestyles, interests, shopping habits, brands that they think are hot or passé, appropriate price points, even "colors, buttons and zippers." In addition, Weaver surveys his 840 store managers every 12 weeks, usually after peak periods, to ask, among other things, what the stores could have done differently, and then shares the compiled surveys with his managers.