Few companies want to be regarded as the developer of last resort, but executives at Starwood Wasserman don't mind. They seem, in fact, to glory in the role.

“Most of the things we work on have been through a good part of the permit process,” says David Wasserman, the Providence, R.I. company's managing director. “We're more like the seventh developer looking at a deal, the one who finally figures it out.”

What the company is presently figuring out is how to save “grand dame” department stores from oblivion, turning stand-alone downtown flagships into beacons of a new era. The location of the current lesson is Pasadena, where Starwood Wasserman hopes to make a 50-year-old emporium the queen of a vibrant new shopping center called The Shops on South Lake Avenue. Built as Bullocks, the 295,000-sq.-ft. store became a Macy's when Bullocks closed in the early 1990s.

As usual, Starwood Wasserman was not first on the scene. It took over from Forest City Enterprises, which in conjunction with Macy's parent company, Federated Department Stores, spent four years to get the project going. But with several massive projects on the agenda, the Cleveland developer had little time for this more modest undertaking.

With only 136,000 sq. ft. of new retail, 27,000 sq. ft. of restaurants and a 312-space parking garage, the $36 million Shops on South Lake is far from grand in scope. But its location in one of Pasadena's most exclusive neighborhoods requires the developer create not just a solid product but a jewel.

Starwood Wasserman's 40 years of experience, including previous work with Forest City, stood it in good stead to do just that. Among its retail successes are Page Field Commons in Ft. Myers, Fla., Boston Plaza in Springfield, Mass. and Cuyahoga Falls Market Center in Cayuhoga Falls, Ohio.

“We're a small shop, but we have a good specialty leasing group and we've got the tenant relationships,” says Wasserman. “We bring a national developer perspective to smaller projects.”

Wasserman believes the pedigree of the South Lake Macy's all but guarantees success of the final project, whose tenants range from Talbot's, Coldwater Creek and Orvis to Trader Joe's and Linens N Things. It will also feature permanent and rotating displays of art designed to make the complex a center of the city's cultural life.

“This Macy's performs at the top of the chain. The location is clearly a winner. All it needed was a little TLC to make it shine,” he says.

The company hopes to repeat the process in Cleveland with one of that city's old-line department stores and, if all goes well, in other cities too.

“These stores are in locations that can't be replicated and are already entitled,” Wasserman points out. “Some of the buildings are historic, and they also can't be replicated. These are the kinds of projects that excite me today and I think will excite the shopper tomorrow.”