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Mall construction on track for holiday season opening

Construction on Las Vegas’ largest retail project since the Fashion Show mall opened in 1981 is proceeding in Summerlin and on track to open for the year-end holiday season.

The sight of more than 700 construction workers at the 106-acre regional shopping center renamed The Shops at Summerlin reflects a rebound in Las Vegas’ economy, observers say.

“We’re not trying to say it,” said Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations for The Howard Hughes Corp., the project’s developer, in correcting a question. “We are saying it. The Las Vegas economy is back, and this is an absolute indicator of that fact.”

Outside of casino development along the Strip, construction in suburban Las Vegas Valley has been relatively sparse since the Great Recession stalled development on the former Summerlin Centre site south of the Red Rock Resort in October 2008. The project’s original developer, General Growth Properties, went through bankruptcy, and GGP spun off its master-planned development Summerlin and Summerlin Centre to The Howard Hughes Corp.

The project was renamed and redesigned. Then construction, which had been 10 percent complete, resumed in May. The pace kicked into high gear in the fall.

No specific date has been given for the project’s opening. But when finished, it will include 1.4 million square feet in an open-air pedestrian-friendly streetscape retail center and 200,000 square feet of office space in a nine-story tower. The site allows for additional retail development beyond the 1.4 million square feet.

BY COMPARISON

Town Square, the open-air retail site that opened in 2007, measures 1.5 million square feet, but that includes office space. Boulevard Mall on Maryland Parkway, which opened in 1968, measures 1.2 million square feet. Meadows Mall, which opened in 1978, is just shy of 1 million square feet. Fashion Show mall with its 1.9 million square feet opened in 1981, and the Galleria at Sunset in Henderson opened in 1996 and has 1 million square feet. The Forum Shops at Caesars measures 638,000 square feet.

John Restrepo, a retail consultant and principal of RCG Economics, agreed with Warden, saying mall construction symbolizes Las Vegas’ resurgence.

“It tells you Las Vegas is coming back,” he said. “It’s been moderate but steady. Are we back to where we were at previous levels before the recession? No. But it’s definitely a sign of confidence in the health and future of the Las Vegas economy that they’re moving forward with this center.”

The center will include a 200,000-square-foot Dillard’s and 180,000-square-foot Macy’s. Other retailers include Nordstrom Rack and Trader Joe’s. There’s potential for a third major retail anchor tenant.

Warden said the project “wouldn’t be happening unless the people who know the business hadn’t decided it was a good time to go.” The Shops at Summerlin was driven by demand, he says.

“It’s not just a unilateral decision, but with a decision to build a regional center, you need commitments,” Warden said. “Retailers wouldn’t commit these kinds of huge dollars unless they’re quite sure we’re in good shape economically and that it’s a very viable location. You want to build regional centers where people live. If you have to get in your car and drive for a half an hour to get to a regional center, it defeats the purpose. You can live there and walk right in.

“Summerlin has been in need for retail space for a long time,” Restrepo said. “It’s been underserved by retail, especially with the household income and population. It has some of the highest incomes in the valley, and there’s a pent up demand for retail there.”

The 400 acres bounded by the 215 Beltway on the west, Charleston Boulevard on the north, Sahara Avenue on the south and Town Center Drive on the east had been designated the commercial center since the master plan was developed in 1988, Warden said.

RESIDENTIAL, OFFICE BUILDINGS IN THE MIX

Red Rock Resort already anchors the 400 acres. Once the 106 acres are developed as the regional retail center, Howard Hughes Corp. has another 200 acres set aside for mixed-use development that would include town houses, midrise and high-rise condominiums, neighborhood retail and some office buildings.

The 4,000 units on the 200 acres will add about 10,000 people. It won’t have any single-family detached homes.

“There’s nothing to compare it to in Southern Nevada,” Warden said. “It goes to the future of what’s happening here and all being done on the 106 acres and all of it is adjacent to the 200 acres that will be the downtown of Summerlin. Nowhere in this state has this been done on this scale or close to it.”

There’s no timeline for the development on the 200 acres, but Warden said it could be several years away and will be driven by demand. Options include Howard Hughes Corp. developing the space, partnering with other companies or selling or leasing land.

Warden said the 1.4 million square feet under construction could have as many as 130 stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. The office tower will have bottom-floor retail that blends into the open-air center.

“There’s so much work going on that it’s becoming a beautiful regional retail center before our eyes,” Warden said. “We’re trying to get it complete by the end of the year to take advantage of the shopping season.

“This is an aggressive schedule,” he added. “We have a lot going on, but it looks good. We’re confident we will have this open come the fall.”

THEN AND NOW

When Summerlin was owned by The Rouse Co., which General Growth Properties acquired in 2004, plans called for an indoor mall on the 106 acres.

“If it had been built and operating there, it would have done OK and survived during the recession,” Warden said. “But because we waited, the result is a much more modern and exciting design.”

It’s a contemporary design with steel and stonework with a nod to Las Vegas’ heritage with tasteful neon, Warden said. Shade structures are dominant in the design. A dining arroyo features landscaping and water features surrounded by restaurants with outdoor patios and balconies to look at the Strip and mountain views.

The Shops at Summerlin will have an urban street grid and walkways. Its heart will feature two streets that run north-south and five that run east-west. There’s also a promenade.

“People can’t grasp the magnitude of the project by driving by,” Warden said. “They say it looks great but wait until they see the interior of this and get in the streets and see the magnitude of it.”

Although no tenants have signed up so far, but Warden said there’s plenty of interest for the office tower and its high-end office space.

The Howard Hughes Corp. won’t discuss the project’s cost but said the steel and infrastructure in place when construction was halted were valued at more than $150 million. The steel was reusable, Warden said, and changes made since the project’s restart shuffled store placements and created two urban streets instead of one long one

The project will create 2,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs for the retail and restaurant uses.

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