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DALLAS-Can malls and town centers peacefully co-exist? Yes, say Texas town center developers who have successfully wedded the Main Street concept to a retail power base bringing upward of $300 per sf in sales to eclectic tenant mixes.

Town centers, one of today’s most popular retail concepts, aren’t roadblocks to the “malling of America,” but rather the next evolutionary step for US shoppers. “I don’t think it’s a question in terms of replacement,” Brian Stebbins, CEO of Cooper & Stebbins LP and developer of Southlake, TX’s town center, tells GlobeSt.com. “It’s a question of can they do as well or better.”

Simply follow the money to find out. In 2000, malls nationwide reaped $350 sales per sf. Texas malls snatched $330 per sf. “We’re above both of those,” confides Stebbins.The 125-acre Southlake Town Square is half built out at 500,000 sf, 100% occupied and gearing up to add a residential component to its two-year-old upscale development plan that boasts the ability to go as high as 2-1/2 million sf. With retail scoring homeruns every day in Southlake and more on the way, Stebbins & Cooper in 2002 will go one step further: 92 units in a Georgetown or Brownstone design and 80 second-floor lofts in the heart of the town square.

Stebbins & Cooper spared no cost when it came to plotting its first town center and calls Southlake its headquarters instead of California since the project started unfolding. It’s a design of the nation’s premier architect, David Schwarz of Washington, DC, a master crafter of buildings scattered throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth. Armed with a Schwarz design, the trick has been to “tell a story” through its mid- to upper-middle retail venues. “We are building a small town Downtown from scratch,” Stebbins says and that means no big boxes. “They are not a natural fit and we don’t want to take away from that. We are long-term owners.”

Southlake is Stebbins & Cooper’s only town center project. The dynamics were right for this kind of undertaking and, says Stebbins, “all that market phenomena doesn’t repeat itself all that often.” Regional malls are here to stay, but Stebbins’ outlook is he wouldn’t want his project to be next door to a mall. “I want to be a Main Street where a regional mall would have been,” he emphasizes.

That’s not the case in the Houston area’s 27,000-acre Woodlands, a joint venture of Ft. Worth-based Crescent Operating Inc. and Morgan Stanley LP of New York City. A 1.2 million-sf regional mall, owned by Chicago-based General Growth Properties, anchors the heart of the shopping district for the market draw of a 750,000 population. Frank W. Robinson, president of the Woodlands Town Center Improvement District, wouldn’t have it any other way. “We think it can be done and done very effectively,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “If I were involved in a revitalization, I would take the mix we have here and try to duplicate it.”

Last year, the Woodlands’ retail districts generated $550 million in sales, of which 60% came from the town’s centerpiece, says Robinson. With its 98%-occuped anchor doing so well, now is the time to start pushing its Main Street concept, which is going up a block away and separated by a high-end retail center now in the design stage. Main Street planning calls for entertainment venues and 1,000 luxury apartments. In all, Woodlands’ developers are sizing up 18 million sf of commercial and retail for a “close-in concept,” he says, adding that the commercial game plan has just reached its halfway mark. Another five years and all should be in place in the 600-acre town center.

Still, the Woodlands’ Texas-size town center needed a “hook.” And that is playing out with a 1-1/2-mile Woodlands Waterway, where gondolas will shuttle the spending public from one shopping venue to the next, and an ample number of strategically positioned parking garages can be found.

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