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Offices, Amusements and More: Starwood Retail Reinvents the Mall, Anchor by Anchor

The idea that the shopping center is the de facto downtown of its community is becoming more of a reality around the United States, and particularly around Starwood Retail Partners’ portfolio; the key is to include new uses such as office space, entertainment attractions, and fitness and health facilities as anchors. Cases in point: Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Michigan, and The Shops at Willow Bend in Plano, Texas.

Fairlane Town Center proves the point: the super-regional enclosed mall is home to more than 140 retailers and restaurants – and more than 1,800 employees of Ford Motor Corp., who began moving engineers and members of its purchasing department into the mall’s former Lord & Taylor space last fall.

Ford is in the midst of a $1.2 billion project of constructing new laboratories and offices, and needed a location to consolidate employees. Meanwhile, Starwood Retail was exploring possibilities for a long-vacant Lord & Taylor after acquiring Fairlane Town Center in 2014. The 10-year lease created Fordland, Fairlane’s largest anchor.

The last of Ford’s team fully moved in in January, and the group (easily recognizable by their company id’s) can be seen at the restaurants, in the stores before and after work, and even among the mall walkers, reports General Manager Rita Nelson. Food court sales have risen between 12% and 19%, with department store sales also seeing an uptick. It’s even helped with the leasing process, as potential new tenants are intrigued by the daytime traffic. The center has welcomed remodeled locations for Foot Locker and Lady Footlocker, with a refreshed H&M opening in July.

“All in all, we’re already seeing a return on investment on the partnership,” Nelson said.

Willow Bend office tower rendering
The Shops at Willow Bend office tower rendering

As part of its $125 million reimagining, The Shops at Willow Bend also will construct seven-story 200,000 square feet of Class ‘A’ office space accommodating up to 800 employees, creating a regular daytime population that will utilizing the upscale retail, new dining corridor and vast new entertainment attractions. Newly announced is just the fourth Crayola Experience in the nation, occupying 60,000 square feet at the project.

“With more than 20 attractions inside, Crayola will provide something unique not just to our property but to the entire state of Texas: a family gathering place where children of all ages can explore their creativity and learn,” said Michael Powers, Senior Vice President of Leasing. “It’s a perfect complement to The North Texas Performing Arts Plano Children’s Theater, which will open late this year, children throughout North Dallas with additional opportunities to become the artists of the future.”

Also coming to the center will be substantial new dining: Knife, a steakhouse by celebrity chef John Tesar, Mexican Bar Company, and Terra Mediterranean, a local favorite. Newly opened is Evereve, a contemporary retail brand. The redevelopment will open in phases through 2018. Plans also call for an Equinox fitness center that will serve the office community, the area’s residents and North Dallas.  

“By adding office space to both Fairlane and Willow Bend, and all the new experiences at Willow, we are proving just how the shopping center can become a downtown commercial and cultural district,” Powers said. “Our industry has always claimed that we are the town squares of our communities. Now, with innovative thinking and new anchor combinations, we’re making that claim a reality.”