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Furniture replaces fashion at mall

Upscale retailer Robb & Stucky will open an expanded furniture and home store in Lord & Taylor's space at International Plaza.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published May 27, 2004

LAS VEGAS - The owners of International Plaza moved to fill a major vacancy Wednesday by agreeing to replace Lord & Taylor with an expansive new furniture and home store developed by upscale retailer Robb & Stucky.

International Plaza also is nearing a deal to put a Capital Grille steakhouse in the spot just vacated by Profusion.

The Robb & Stucky agreement, in the works since at least April, calls for the chain based in Fort Myers to open an expanded version of its typical store - three times the size of its Clearwater store, which will close. Details of the moves were confirmed Wednesday at the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual convention.

"It is not going to be an ordinary furniture store by any stretch," said Eric Anderson, advertising director of the chain, which had revenues of $230-million in 2003. He said the additional space will "give us the opportunity to display a lot of high-end designer names and accessories in a lifestyle-setting store."

The store, similar to one opened in Boca Raton's Mizner Park, a fashionable outdoor shopping center, will stock luxury items such as bathroom fixtures by Waterworks and crystal from Baccarat in a gift boutique.

It's a new approach for Robb & Stucky, the nation's 33rd largest furniture retailer, which generally has kept to large roadside stores, usually in neighborhoods near new subdivisions. The move may happen this winter.

Lord & Taylor is leaving as part of a restructuring of the New York chain, a unit of May Department Stores Inc., which is pulling out of all the Southeast states and Texas.

Taubman Centers Inc., which manages International Plaza and is losing Lord & Taylor stores in four other malls it operates, tried to find a department store as a replacement. But there are only a couple of prospects left among department store operators, and none were interested in trying to crack the Tampa Bay market.

Unlike a mall anchor department store that pays only token rent (Lord & Taylor paid $1 a year, according to its lease), Robb & Stucky will be treated more like a regular tenant. It is leasing all of the ground floor and half of the second floor of the Lord & Taylor building.

Taubman plans to find another so-called lifestyle store that sells a mix of housewares, accessories and sometimes clothing, such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. Taubman is looking for one that's not already in the Tampa Bay market to take the remaining space on the second floor.

"We've got three or four very interested tenants," said David Weinart, vice president of leasing for Taubman. "This is high-profile space overlooking the center court, so we want to really maximize the opportunity."

Furniture is not new to malls, with smaller stores such as the Bombay Company. Fashion department stores all used to have furniture departments, but most eased them out in favor of their own separate furniture gallery stores years ago.

But putting a furniture store in an anchor position is a bit unusual, which is why the plan for Robb & Stucky is to offer an expanded collection that includes bath fixtures and other home accessories. Taubman also has a two-story Mastercraft furniture store at its Fair Oaks mall in Fairfax, Va.

"We explored a lot of options for IP, but we wanted to expand our merchandise mix in the home area," said John Simon, Taubman's director of development.

Robb & Stucky signed the lease months ago, but Taubman and all of the mall's department stores had to sign off on the deal. Taubman is now negotiating the terms for buying back the space from Lord & Taylor.

Taubman also said it has signed up the Capital Grille, a so-called serious steak house (read $33 for a 24-ounce porterhouse with no side dish) to replace Profusion, a New Age Chinese restaurant that closed last weekend after a three-year run at Bay Street, the mall's outdoor restaurant district.

"We have not announced Tampa as a project that we can open in 2004, but it's a real possibility for 2005," said Doug Benn, chief financial officer of RARE Hospitality, owners of Capital Grille.

The Atlanta restaurant company that also owns the mid-priced LongHorn Steakhouse chain developed 18 Capital Grilles as a high-priced alternative. The main attractions are steak dry-aged for 14 days and oversized cold lobster. Decked out in mahogany woodwork and leather chairs, the first Capital Grille in Washington, D.C., became a power lunch hangout.

"We think they are better than Morton's or the Palm," said Taubman's Weinart.

The Palm has an outlet at nearby rival WestShore Plaza. Chicago-based Morton's has flirted with many Tampa developers over the years but never made the leap.

- Staff writer Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 01:01:27]

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