Patience paid off for CBL & Associates Properties Inc. this October. The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based REIT finally made its regional mall debut in the top-tier Atlanta market after almost a decade of careful planning, negotiating and waiting.
"The results are phenomenal," says Brenda McNeeley,director of the company's newborn Arbor Place Mall in Douglasville, Ga. "We didn't even have our grand opening until Oct. 13, and we had a count of 250,000 cars for the month. At 2.5 people per vehicle, that's more than half a million visitors in little more than two weeks."
The two-level, 1.2 million sq. ft. mall was designed to captivate the young, affluent families in Douglasville and its surrounding half-dozen residential areas. It is the keystone of CBL's Douglasville "retail campus," which includes The Landing at Arbor Place, an adjacent, 162,979 sq. ft. power center housing 14 stores, and four freestanding businesses.
Arbor Place, 85% leased on opening day, features an eclectic mix of tried-and-true retailers, along with a batch of new concepts previously untested in the Southeast. These include a NASCAR store/virtual reality gameroom venture, a Parisian's HomePlace specialty store and a still-under-Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store.
Joining the lineup are big-box retailers Borders Books & Music, Bed Bath & Beyond and the largest Old Navy in the Southeast.
Unfortunately for CBL, the recent demise of popular Atlanta-based apparel retailer Uptons has left Arbor Place with one less anchor than it anticipated. "We're in negotiations right now," manager Thom Guerra says. "And we plan to have a tenant to replace Uptons soon."
A substantial retail corridor surrounding the mall, including big name retailers such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Target, should also help keep locals from making the trek to the nearest competing regional mall, Cumberland Place, 25 miles away. And according to initial feedback from retailers, the benefits are evident.
"Many stores, including Lerner New York and White Barn Candle made their monthly sales goals in the first week the mall was open, and it's been packed wall to wall every week since," McNeeley says.
But Arbor Place's success story is not an overnight one. CBL had been sitting on the 125-acre parcel of land along Interstate Highway 20 in Atlanta's western suburbs since 1990, anticipating a shift in the metropolitan area's accelerated northward growth. The shift happened in the late 1990s, when growth began to spill to the city's west.
When CBL felt the time was right to move ahead with the Arbor Place project, not even a river could dampen its enthusiasm. The river in question, a stream that cut right through the property, was only a part of the environmental challenges faced by the developer.
"Before building could begin, there was the question of how to handle the five acres of wetlands on the lot," Guerra says. Though the wetlands were eventually razed to make way for the mall, even the staunchest environmentalists have to give credit to CBL for how it handled the situation. After consulting with state and federal environmental agencies, CBL agreed to arrange for the permanent management and conservation of a 25-acre wetlands preserve 2.5 miles from Arbor Place. The troublesome stream has been re-routed and now runs 50 feet below the mall, encased in a 10-by-10-foot concrete tunnel.
To further atone for the wetlands situation, not to mention bring countless groups of local school children into the mall on field trips, the company has installed the Arbor Place Environmental Wall. The wall is a series of lighted panels featuring educational information about wetlands and water conservation. "Miss Mother Nature" made an appearance at the mall's grand opening celebration to emphasize its respect for the great outdoors.
After overcoming the hurdles of a tight labor market, tough environmental negotiations, and a pre-opening anchor withdrawal, CBL is ready to hear the sweet sounds of Christmas season cash registers ringing. For a company like CBL, whose 35 million sq. ft. of GLA consists mostly of community centers in second-tier markets, success with Arbor Place signifies a serious growth spurt.