Part 1 -New Beginning for Aging Malls
Part 2 -Royal Hawaiian Makeover
Part 3 -High Drama over Destiny USA
Part 4 -Battered Mall Gets New Life

When Hurricane Wilma tore through South Florida in 2005, it damaged swaths of the City of Plantation near Fort Lauderdale, including the 18-year-old Fashion Mall. The mall's anchors, Macy's and Lord & Taylor, closed. Other tenants fled, and soon the 650,000 sq. ft. mall was nearly abandoned.

But now the shopping center is getting a new identity as 321 North, a mixed-use development. The old enclosure will be rebuilt with an open design that leaves the boxy mall format behind. The redevelopment will include two new 16-story office towers and a refurbished office building, 590 condos and indoor shops, along with outdoor entertainment and plazas.

“It's probably the largest mixed-use project being built in South Florida right now,” says Mike Coletti, director of operations for 321 North owner U.S. Capital Holdings, an international investment firm based in Plantation, which has a significant number of clients in China.

The project is expected to cost between $600 million and $800 million, Coletti says. U.S. Capital has commitments from about 75% of prospective tenants for the first office tower scheduled to be completed by 2009. In all, the plan includes 500,000 sq. ft. of office and 525,000 sq. ft. of retail.

“Our plan is to gut both the [existing] office building and the mall and we're going to refurbish them with a brand new, Class-A-plus look,” Coletti says.

The developer plans to complete construction, including the four condo towers, by 2012. Currently, U.S. Capital is obtaining permits, Coletti says, and hopes to break ground within six months. In mid-April, U.S. Capital was still arranging financing.

The company will redevelop the retail portion first as part of its strategy to attract firms doing business with Fortune 500 companies represented in the Plantation area, such as DHL, American Express and Motorola. “Once we build our whole mall and outside plazas, it will make more amenities for the top financial institutions to lease office space,” Coletti says.

With a population of about 85,000, Plantation is a diverse area with homes priced from $70,000 to more than $1 million, according to the Greater Plantation Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Capital hopes to get at least an 8% return on its investment, Coletti notes. And he has calculated the benefits of refurbishing the attached office tower. The company plans to invest about $12 million in construction costs to rebuild the storm-damaged structure, he says.

“When you [pencil] it out, if your average rents can come out to between $18 and $21 per sq. ft., it still spills off good operating income with stabilization in the second year.”

The rebuilt mall will occupy the same footprint as its predecessor, but the Macy's and Lord & Taylor sites will be torn down and replaced by plazas, and the mall will have an open-air look with restaurants located outside.

Lead architect Jonathan Cardello, principal of ADD Inc.'s Miami office, says part of the project will look like a Main Street, allowing customers to park closer to shops and restaurants.

“I think everyone's looking for convenience today. Families are getting busier. They want to go and access the shop quickly,” Cardello says. Otherwise, it cuts into the family's private time. “Developers are responding by looking for convenience.”