New mall at World Trade Center opens for Manhattan shoppers

Westfield’s new World Trade Center retail concourse, which opened on Wednesday inside the mass-transit hub at the rebuilt complex in lower Manhattan, is positioned to outperform the original one, destroyed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, say the company’s co-chief executive.

“All you have to look at is the Apple Store and Eataly,” says Peter Lowy at an office that overlooks the 6.5 hectare trade centre site. “When you look at that, you should have much higher volumes because you have much different retailers that do very, very large business.”

Westfield opened the 34,000 square-metre shopping complex mainly inside the Oculus, the white-ribbed centerpiece of architect Santiago Calatrava’s US$3.9 billion commuter terminal. The opening was the latest step in a return to normality at the trade centre, where there are two office towers complete and a third on the way, along with a 9/11 memorial and museum honouring the victims of the attack.

As thousands of people flowed in and out of the Oculus, the singer Leslie Odom Jr, performed, followed by the cast of the musical School of Rock. A line formed outside the Lobster Press food stand.

Mr Lowy projects that the mall will generate just more than $1,500 a square foot in sales. The original World Trade Center mall had sales of $903 a square foot in 2000, Mr Lowy said at the time, or more than three times the average for a typical suburban regional US mall. His projects volume for the new retail centre will be almost four times the $400 a square foot found at an average mall today.

Westfield, based in Sydney, Australia, leased the original mall in 2001 in the same deal under which the developer Larry Silverstein won the rights to the twin towers and other office buildings on the site for 99 years. After the attack, Westfield sold its interest back to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, while keeping a first-negotiation right should the authority decide to sell its retail rights again.

The mall company reacquired those interests in a pair of deals, the first in 2012 and the second in 2014, for a combined $1.41bn. The Australian Financial Review last week estimated a $2.5bn value for the complex. Mr Lowy declines to comment on the estimate.

The retail concourse, in a complex that links the Port Authority Trans-Hudson trains from New Jersey with the New York subway system, is designed to attract a steady stream of commuters, workers from in and around the complex, residents from the growing neighbourhood that surrounds the complex, and tourists coming to see the memorial, museum and observatory at 1 World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

Westfield is expecting about 15 million global travellers to visit the area annually, Mr Lowy says. He is projecting the complex to generate about $1bn in annual sales volume and operate at a 6.5 per cent profit margin.

The mall will debut with 60 of its just more than 100 stores and restaurants in operation, including Eataly, the Italian-themed food and beverage marketplace, which opened on August 11, and the Apple Store. Other stores preparing to open include Kate Spade, Breitling, Charles Tyrwhitt and Smythson, and nine stores that Mr Lowy says were in the original concourse, including a Duane Reade drug store, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, Cole Haan, Crabtree & Evelyn and Papyrus.

Stores still to come after the mall’s debut include the clothing retailer H&M. A representative from the US office of Hennes & Mauritz, the chain’s Swedish parent, says the company is “excited” to be part of the new mall.

The complex is fully leased, says Molly Morse, a Westfield spokeswoman. Stores will come online “in stages,” with the entire complex open by the Christmas shopping season, she adds. That does not include a section that cannot be finished until 3 World Trade Center is at least approaching completion, Mr Lowy says.

The new stores face competition across the street at Brookfield Property Partners’ Brookfield Place, where the landlord spent about $250 million upgrading the office complex’s retail space. Its additions include Hudson Eats and Le District, food marketplaces designed in the image of Eataly.

The trade centre’s shopping hub also will have the delicate task of co-existing with the solemn memorial, with its twin pools approximately where the destroyed twin towers were. For many victims’ families, the memorial remains their only grave site. Lee Ielpi, whose firefighter son Jonathan died in the attack, says Westfield has treated the task with sensitivity and respect.

“This is something we’ve thought about for years,” sys Mr Ielpi, a co-founder of the 9/11 Tribute Center, which has been interacting with site tourists since early last decade. “The memorial itself and the museum, that is the sacred ground, that 9 acres, but the same applies to the transit hub and all the retail that’s going to be involved in it. But we have to be open-minded about it. We have to realise that there is rebuilding, there is revitalising.”

The masterplan for the complex allows the stores to operate without intruding on the memorial, Mr Lowy says. None of the entrances face the memorial, he says. A dining area at Eataly, which is on the third floor of the 4 World Trade Center office tower, overlooks the south tower memorial pool. He says he thinks those uses are compatible.

The memorial and the retail space “can co-exist in the proper manner”.

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