Simon DeBartolo Launches Sponsorship Program Simon Brand Ventures, a wholly owned subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Simon DeBartolo Group Inc., has been formed to position the company's 187 shopping centers as marketing mediums for exclusive vendors.

"We already have 100 million individual shoppers, from a trade area that includes more than 28 million households, who visit Simon DeBartolo owned and managed malls," says David Simon, chief executive officer for Simon DeBartolo.

"More than 17,000 retailers occupy 130 million sq. ft. of space in our malls and employ more than 1 million people," he continues. "We recognize that there is enormous opportunity for us as we marry this powerful customer base with recognized brands.

"Over the past year we have been working on the Simon Brand Ventures concept which will create new one-to-one marketing relationships with mall consumers in partnership with leading consumer brands and will enhance service to our mall tenants by arranging volume business-to-business offerings from preferred vendors," Simon continues.

The new entity has formed alliances with: -- Visa. A four-year alliance will give Visa exclusive access in 131 Simon DeBartolo properties nationwide, to promote its payment card products and develop applications for new payment technologies in the mall marketplace.

-- HFS. The company will market brands such as Century 21, Ramada and RCI (Resorts Condominiums International, a time-share vacation company) to Simon customers. In addition, HFS and Simon DeBartolo have agreed to jointly promote their combined customer assets to preferred alliance vendors.

-- CUC. The membership marketing company has entered into an agreement to assist Simon DeBartolo with membership programs.

-- MALL V.I.P. Credit Card. Simon Brand Ventures has formed an alliance of developers issuing a cash-back VISA card. The card provides consumers with a 2 percent rebate on in-mall purchases at 500 centers nationwide.

-- Electronic Concierge Network. Simon DeBartolo is developing a network of automated teller machines in alliance with Ameri-Cash, SMARTALK and Diebold. The machines will have expanded product and service dispensing capabilities that will enable consumers to access pre-paid phone cards and gift certificates as well as cash. Future capabilities include event ticketing and multi-media sponsorship opportunities.

-- The Shopping Line. This interactive telecommunications system for malls provides call answering, routing, advertising and job line services, as well as mall information services to consumers and employees. The proprietary network enables Simon DeBartolo to direct-connect consumers with marketing partners' call centers.

Simon Brand Ventures also will offer products and services to tenants at Simon DeBartolo malls through its Merchant Services group. The unit has negotiated service, vendor and provider agreements with more than 20 companies -- including Olsten Staffing Services and Southeast Service Corp. -- to provide retailers with products and services at preferred rates.

In addition, Simon Brand Ventures will create a proprietary data warehouse on consumer purchase behavior. The results will be used to drive marketing, leasing, as well as merchant and partner offerings and services to targeted consumers.

"The company's goal is to further enhance our position as the leading provider of retail and customer services in North America by providing new marketing partnerships with one-to-one consumer access, while increasing business for Simon's retail tenants," says Simon. "The initiatives undertaken by Simon Brand Ventures ... represent an entirely new direction for the retail real estate industry."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., has opened its first in-store playground, designed to introduce the concept of "shopping as play" to parents and children visiting its retail sites. The play station, which accommodates up to 35 children, was installed recently at the company's store in Bentonville.

"Children have really been enjoying themselves on the playground since it was installed [in August]," says Tina Hobbs, assistant manager for the Bentonville store. "Positioning the play station right in the middle of the merchandise rather than outside [the store] makes it easier for parents to shop while their kids have fun.

"What we have here is something that will make kids want to come out shopping with their parents rather than making it something they dread," Hobbs explains. "This makes shopping at Wal-Mart a family outing."

Children enter the playground by ascending an oversized set of stairs that leads to a brightly colored network of chutes, tunnels, play areas and bubble-shaped observation windows. A vertical play maze featuring platform steps contains children with netting and provides clear parent-to-child visibility.

Suspended above the store's Infant Department, the Bentonville play station "has been specifically designed to meet Wal-Mart's specifications," says Scott Rix, vice president of marketing and sales for Charlotte, N.C.-based Soft Play L.L.C. (designer of the unit). Nevertheless, Wal-Mart has yet to announce plans for future playgrounds.

The Bentonville site "is in a test phase," explains Alex Clarke, spokesperson for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. She states that customer feedback will be considered for several months before the retailer makes the decision to install similar play stations in additional stores.

In late August, Baltimore-based Prime Retail Inc. transferred its common stock and series B cumulative participating convertible preferred stock to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

The company was originally listed with the NASDAQ national market system when it completed its initial public offering in March 1994.

According to company president Abe Rosenthal, Prime Retail will join a number of other real estate investment trusts already trading on the NYSE. "The switch to the New York Stock Exchange marks a significant milestone in the growth of Prime Retail," he says.

"With a total common equity capitalization of $361.1 million and a total market capitalization of approximately $1.1 billion, we believe that our shareholders [are best served by] the New York Stock Exchange," he continues. "It has the prestige and global reach to enhance our national and international profile in the investment community."

Prime Retail is a self-administered, self-managed real estate investment trust engaged in the ownership, development and management of factory outlet centers. Following its initial stock price of $14 per share, the stock climbed in price to $15 3/8 by mid-September. It is trading under the symbol "PRT."

Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp. and Horsham, Pa.-based GMAC Commercial Mortgage have announced the expansion of their respective mortgage operations. From the Midwest eastward, the firms are opening new offices and broadening their commercial financing capabilities.

First Union Capital Markets has opened offices in Chicago and Houston, thereby establishing a regional center for its Midwest and Southwest operations. Both offices will provide loan origination and other real estate services to owners and developers of apartments, shopping centers, warehouses, office buildings and other commercial properties.

Similarly, GMAC Commercial Mortgage has opened a new loan production office in Miami. In addition to providing commercial mortgages and real estate services in the South Florida region, GMAC's new office will serve markets in the Caribbean and in Central and South America.

To head their companies' expansions, both companies have appointed long-term members of the commercial financing field. For example, John McLeod, a former vice president for First Union, will head GMAC's new operations in Miami.

In Chicago, First Union's office will be managed by David DeBauche, who is the former first vice president for Sanwa Business Credit Corp., Chicago. Meanwhile, in Houston, First Union's operations will be spearheaded by Michael Spoor, former president for Banc One Commercial Loan Origination Corp., Columbus, Ohio.

Princeton Forrestal Village in Plainsboro, N.J., recently hosted an open-air farmers' market where local farmers peddled seasonal, farm-fresh produce to mall shoppers. The event, which opened in mid-July, was held in the Market Plaza of the 420,000 sq. ft. office and outlet center every Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through September. Approximately 10 stands were open during the event's duration.

According to marketing assistant Lois Powers, the Market Plaza at Princeton Forrestal Village was an appropriate setting for the farmers' market. The Market Plaza is a centrally located, outdoor area often used during lunch hours by business people from the surrounding office buildings.

The space in the Market Plaza was offered to the New Jersey Department Of Agriculture by center management in order to provide a central location for local farmers to sell their goods directly to consumers. Princeton Forrestal Village is managed by Gale & Wentworth Inc., Florham Park, N.J.

"The office workers enjoyed being able to shop for fresh produce and flowers during their lunch hour, and the community came looking for the market," says Powers. She adds that the mall logged as many as 15 telephone calls per week from people expressing interest in visiting the market.

"Consumers want and understand the benefits of getting their produce straight from the farmer's field," says Ronald E. Good, agricultural marketing specialist for the state of New Jersey. "They enjoy the social contact with local farmers."

Plans for next year's farmers' market are under way, says Powers. "This year, the produce was not ready until the middle of July because we had a dry spring," she says. "Next year, we hope to start the farmers' market in the beginning of July if the weather is better."