[NOTE: This interview was conducted just days before Bucksbaum stepped down as General Growth Properties' CEO.]
Even as it looks at alternatives to relieve massive, $27-billion debt obligations, Chicago-based General Growth Properties also has another concern: operating its 200-plus retail centers in a difficult retail environment. General Growth CEO John Bucksbaum spoke briefly with GlobeSt.com about the state of the company and how it continues to maintain normal operations. He wasn’t able to reveal much, but the company’s earnings results come out on Oct. 31, when more light might be shed on General Growth’s status.
GlobeSt.com: With all that’s going on, how is the company doing operationally?
Bucksbaum: We continue to operate normally, in the same manner as always. Our problem is not at the property level, but the debt maturities and the credit markets.
GlobeSt.com: How did we get to this?
Bucksbaum: Because of the frozen credit markets.
GlobeSt.com: Are you now in negotiations to sell all or part of GGP?
Bucksbaum: As we’ve stated in the press release and then on numerous occasions, we look at the various alternatives that are available to us, which run the gamut from joint venturing assets to selling noncore assets to selling shopping center assets, raising equity at the property level, raising equity at the corporate level.
GlobeSt.com: Would certain properties be off limits?
Bucksbaum: Again, we look at the alternatives that are available to us.
GlobeSt.com: What are your other options? At this low share price, have you considered taking the company private?
Bucksbaum: I can only go back to, we look at all alternatives.
GlobeSt.com: Reports are that financing is improving in the last few days. Are you finding that to be the case?
Bucksbaum: We’re hopeful that’s the case.
GlobeSt.com: Are the international ventures also affected?
Bucksbaum: Again it goes back to that we look at all alternatives.
GlobeSt.com: Everyone agrees that your stock (which closed yesterday at $4.84) is grossly unfair given the value of your porfolio. What do you consider a fair valuation of your stock?
Bucksbaum: There’s a wide range of estimates, and I won’t comment on that.
GlobeSt.com: How do you keep morale going?
Bucksbaum: By looking at the wonderful group of assets that we have. We have a great group of people and we continue to operate those properties on a daily basis.
GlobeSt.com: Are there regulations with the staff?
Bucksbaum: We do communicate.
GlobeSt.com: What are some things the company is doing to reassure customers, tenants?
Bucksbaum: We continue to lease space, to work with our retailers, in the same fashion we always do.
GlobeSt.com: There’s been no slowdown as tenants watch what’s going on?
Bucksbaum: As far as the economy [goes], our leasing has been quite strong, given the environment.
GlobeSt.com: How do you anticipate the holidays? Will the centers be more promotional to get shoppers in the doors?
Bucksbaum: It’s the retailers who get the [shoppers in the doors]. All of the reports are that this will be a challenged holiday season. One would be hard-pressed [to see major growth] with what you see out there.
[Note: GGP is repeating a number of programs, including the Giving Spree, which allows shoppers to donate to Habit for Humanity or local charities, "Get Your Gift On", which offers prizes on Black Friday; and Rockin Shopping Eve, which offers promotions at selected centers at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday.]
GlobeSt.com: And so in that respect, it’s business as usual?
Bucksbaum: We continue to operate the centers, leasing continues.