The Shops at Willow Bend is getting a $100 million makeover from its new owners, who say it needs major changes to reach its potential. Starwood Retail Partners bought the Plano shopping center a year ago from the original developer, Taubman Centers Inc. Major additions will include a class A office tower, a hotel and an entertainment district with six to eight restaurants. Starwood is still working on its plans for residences and another fashion anchor store.
The project will begin early next year with the razing of the 125,000-square-foot former Saks Fifth Avenue. The addition in its place will be the “architectural focal point” of the mall’s new main entrance facing east toward the Dallas North Tollway.
The first phase of the work will be completed in 2017 and the total project completed in 2019, Starwood said. The company promises the redevelopment will be highly visible from the tollway, with a “vibrant, welcoming façade that expresses a sense of arrival” for people visiting the center. “Plano is experiencing terrific growth, and our vision for Willow Bend is in step with the city’s business, shopping and entertainment plans for the future,” said Scott Wolstein, CEO of Starwood Retail Partners.
The original developer tried to make the mall into a high-priced, super luxury center that was built around Neiman Marcus, Wolstein said, but the demographics for the area are much broader than just luxury shoppers. “The demand for merchandise went beyond the initial Prada, Gucci and Armani level,” he said. “Neiman Marcus can serve that customer, and it does very well. Dillard’s, Macy’s, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel and Apple all do extremely well.” Those tenants are all sought after by shopping center landlords, he said, and “we’re very happy to have that base in the mall. The hard work is done. “We’re going to re-energize it into the mall it could be and should be,” he said.
The Shops at Willow Bend opened in 2001, a month before 9-11 and the U.S. recession that followed. It already had plenty of competition in the neighborhood. Frisco’s Stonebriar Centre had opened a year earlier just a few miles up the tollway, and Preston and Park in Plano was already a major shopping district. Stonebriar added more than 100,000 square feet of space in 2014 when it got rid of its ice rink. That made room for an expansion of Forever 21 and allowed it to add H&M, James Avery, Perry’s Steakhouse and most recently a Microsoft store.
“As you can see, Stonebriar Centre continues to be the hub of North Texas retail, “ said Randy Barnett, Stonebriar’s general manager. “With 165 stores and the exciting development within a 5-mile radius of the center, Stonebriar Centre is moving forward with record-breaking sales per square foot and a near 100 percent occupancy level.”
Starwood declined to provide an occupancy rate for the Shops at Willow Bend, but general manager Justin Roche said several spaces are being filled with temporary stores for the holiday season. The Shops at Willow Bend has 125 stores and is anchored by Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and Macy’s. Saks Fifth Avenue came later, then closed in 2010. Lord & Taylor left the market and was leveled to make way for Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware as Taubman tried to give the mall a boost as a furniture destination for new households in the region. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams and Z Gallerie also opened in Willow Bend.
Taubman later tried to turn Willow Bend’s Saks Fifth Avenue space into new restaurants, but those plans never got off the ground. Willow Bend was one of seven shopping centers Taubman sold in 2014 for $1.4 billion. At the time, Taubman said the centers lagged the performance of the company’s other properties. The growth in Collin County is still attracting new developments.
More competition is coming from the $2 billion Legacy West project north of Willow Bend. The project being built on 250 acres next to J.C. Penney’s headquarters will house the corporate campuses of both Toyota and Liberty Mutual Insurance. Legacy West also has 280,000 square feet of retail and a 300-room Renaissance Hotel. Just west of Legacy West in The Colony is Nebraska Furniture Mart’s Grandscape. That $1.5 billion project is opening in stages with plans for hotels, offices and more retail and restaurants.
Initially, Wolstein said, the residential area between Willow Bend and Stonebriar wasn’t as developed and filled in as it is now. The increase in population density means the Collin County trade area is no longer a one-store market for retail and restaurant chains. “It used to be either/or, but now with the growth there are opportunities for retailers to be in both malls, and that gives us a stronger roster of tenants to chose from,” Wolstein said.