Friday, May 22, 1998 | 10:23 a.m.
In a sea of conservative gray business suits, the attire worn by the team of General Growth Properties Inc. at the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show was unmistakable.
The bright green blazers stood out in the crowd. And the crowds were large at the Chicago-based company's centrally located booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Retail representatives from all over the country came to the ICSC show last week to cut deals to secure space in the world's shopping malls.
General Growth has been busy in the past few months. Two major deals landed 14 new shopping malls for the second-largest regional mall real estate investment trust in the United States. Among the 14: Las Vegas' Boulevard Mall and Meadows Mall, acquired separately in deals announced the past few weeks.
Those malls were added to a year-end portfolio that included ownership interests in or management responsibility for 119 regional shopping centers with more than 93 million square feet of retail space. The properties are spread out over more than 38 states, with 435 department stores and more than 15,000 retail leases.
John Bucksbaum, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for General Growth, wore a look of satisfaction in addition to his green blazer when surveying the crowds at the booth. He's hoping Las Vegas is indicative of big crowds and that his two new properties will be able to stand out as readily as his sales force.
"In a city like Las Vegas, we'd rather have two malls than one, so we're pleased that the deals we made included two properties here," Bucksbaum said.
The acquisition of the two Las Vegas malls and the 12 others in the package are consistent with General Growth's strategy of building shareholder value through expansion. The company's philosophy has been to focus on centers that will possess competitive strength and growth three, five and 10 years in the future.
Bucksbaum's company believes the Las Vegas retail scene will continue to thrive despite increased competition and a lull in tourism growth.
Bucksbaum believes the focus of the Boulevard and the Meadows malls are different, primarily due to their locations. The Boulevard, he said, would continue to be boosted by tourists because it's relatively close to the Strip, while the Meadows will depend more on the community for support.
Because of flat tourism statistics, Bucksbaum believes his local malls must generate a greater rapport with the community. When he meets with management of the two malls, he said he would stress increasing the marketing programs and community involvement.
Many of the marketing ideas listed by Bucksbaum are already in place at the Las Vegas malls. But Bucksbaum said increased emphasis is planned.
Among the activities he listed to draw shoppers to the malls are playing host to high school graduation and Halloween parties, allowing non-profit organizations to wrap gifts as fund-raisers, child safety programs with police agencies and reading programs for youngsters. He also said other malls under his company's management have been successful with cash-back programs to benefit schools based on store receipts from participating mall merchants.
Typically, he said, his malls would generate 30 to 60 events a year to generate community traffic.
As far as serving tourists, Bucksbaum said he is not concerned with the current downturn.
"Las Vegas will always have its ups and downs, so a down time now will mean an up time in the future," he said. "That's why it's so important for us to concentrate a lot on our community focus."
Asked about a potential retail glut in Las Vegas with the arrival of so many new outlets between now and 2000, Bucksbaum indicated his company is prepared to meet the challenge.
"Competition is something we face in all the markets we're in," Bucksbaum said. "What we'll need to do is take new approaches to make our properties more attractive."
Bucksbaum said being a large operator puts his company at an advantage in creating new concepts.
"It allows some of our retailers an opportunity to experiment," he said.
He explained that a leather specialty outlet in one of his malls negotiated leases for secondary stores just to market small popular items during holiday periods. He also said his company helped the Gap chain develop stores in middle markets where once the company had insisted on locating only in metropolitan areas.