A Houston developer, out to capture an elite mix of retailers, has found the key to success for a redeveloped shopping center in the world of soft goods suppliers.

The 130,000-sf Champions Forest Plaza has just signed Gap as a tenant. The national retailer, which will bring along a Gap Kids store, will begin construction on 10,250 sf next month, shooting for a January delivery. Meanwhile, a 5,500-sf Victoria’s Secret will come to market next month along with a 5,000-sf Ann Taylor. The retailers are joining a lineup that includes a 2,500-sf The Right Start, an infant and toddlers’ chain based in CA, that has selected the upscale retail complex for its first TX store. By year’s end, the chain will have four stores in Houston with plans afoot to open others in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, says Jim Smith Jr., a broker with Boyd Page/ChainLinks and son of Champions Forest Plaza owner, Jim R. Smith & Co.

The 21-year-old Champions Forest Plaza has turned itself around from a traditional retail site to one that is attracting a high-end mix found only at three other sites in Houston, says the elder Smith. “But nobody in Houston has this collection plus a Container Store,” he emphasizes. First, came a near $8 million makeover, excluding the $125 to $150 per sf that the complex’s retailers are putting up to build out their stores, says Smith. His coup was the signing of the Container Store, Houston’s second, for 23,000 sf. One of the few hard goods suppliers in the center, the Container Store holds the anchor spot, opening in mid-June and marking its second location in Houston.

Champions Forest Plaza’s makeover has made it a recipient of Peat-Warwick’s Legacy award while its reputation as a premier shopping location continues to build as the selective tenant mix grows. There is 8,000 sf remaining at the complex, which abuts the tony Champions Forest subdivision. Smith the broker told GlobeSt.com that he is seeking “other upscale nationals that would complement the other lineup.”

The elder Smith says he tried for many years to piece together a tenant mix that would return the center to its original heyday, but he credits his son with the soft goods idea that has attracted the likes of Talbot’s, Harold Powell, Drapers & Damons, The Children’s Collection and restaurateurs Chico’s and Carrabbas. “You’ve got to be in a very sophisticated area to be able to pull this off,” says Smith, who owns 30 shopping centers in the Houston area. But this one, he says, is the cornerstone of his collection – so much so that he spends every Saturday at the center, walking around and talking with the retailers’ employees and admiring the imported stone facades and stone fountain centerpiece.

Smith the developer says the property has the right location at the busy northwest Houston intersection of Champions Forest Drive and FM 1960, a thoroughfare used by nearly 70,000 motorists daily. But, it’s situated in such a way that residents can access the center without venturing onto the busy highway. Smith knows the location well, owning three of the four corners – 25 acres in all. Champions Forest Plaza, positioned on nine acres, is the largest of Smith’s retail developments flanking the busy intersection. Will he acquire the fourth corner? Probably not, he says, quickly adding it’s owned by Weingarten Realty, a leading player among the state’s retail site owners.

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