Cape mall will be sold to Australian company

Friday, May 12, 2006

The $64.3 million purchase will come with a familiar name change.

Gotten used to calling it Westfield West Park yet? Well, forget it.

The Cape Girardeau shopping center is being sold to Centro Properties Group, an Australian firm whose first order of business will be to change the name -- to West Park Mall.

If it has a familiar ring, that's because West Park Mall is the name the mall had from the time it opened in March 1981 until Westfield bought it in 1993. Since then, it's been Westfield Shoppingtown West Park and, most recently, Westfield West Park.

Now, Centro plans to change the name back after the $64.3 million deal finalizes within the next 60 days.

"We don't name all our malls the same thing," said Mitchell Brown, spokesman for Centro Watt, Centro's joint U.S. venture which manages Centro's 107 American properties.

Sidney-based Centro likes its malls to have local identities, Brown said from his office in Philadelphia. The company recognized that the community was familiar and more comfortable with West Park Mall than something new they could have come up with.

"So it just seemed logical to go back to the original name," he said. "So that's what we decided."

Centro announced Tuesday that it had entered into contracts to buy the mall, along with seven other Westfield-owned malls in California, Connecticut, North Carolina, Ohio and Colorado. Westfield is also based in Australia. The deal for all the malls was valued at $524 million, with a price tag of the local 502,350-square-foot mall set at $64.3 million.

Westfield will continue to hold 5 percent ownership of the Cape Girardeau mall -- and four others in the deal -- for tax purposes, according to a Westfield spokesman. Westfield has interests in 128 shopping centers valued at nearly $40 billion.

"We have decided to divest ourselves in these nonstrategic assets since they no longer fit our investment criteria nor are they in our long-term redevelopment plans," Westfield group managing director Peter Lowy said in a news release. "We are constantly reviewing our properties for opportunities to generate higher return for our shareholders."

Centro hopes that all of the local mall managers and staff will stay on. Brown said they have made that offer to everyone, and local mall manager Paul Dobbins will stay employed at the mall under the new ownership. Dobbins declined to comment, however.

Centro will build on what Westfield has done, Brown said. Shoppers shouldn't expect to see drastic changes at the mall -- at least initially. Centro will then assess what the mall might need.

"Over time, we'll determine the best direction to take," he said. "We want to make improvements. But we want to get local input with our on-site team and figure out what's best."

Some store managers at the mall were familiar with the sale and others weren't.

J.C. Penney manager Sarah Grigaitis said she knew the deal was coming. But all she really knew about Centro was that it was an Australian company. Still, she didn't expect her customers to see any real changes.

"I don't see it being any different," said Grigaitis, who took over in January. "It won't affect us. It won't affect J.C. Penney merchandise, personnel or the company. The mall's still going to be here."

But the sale was news to Sharon Ebersohl, manager at Famous Barr. But she said it wouldn't mean much to them either, even as they are about to become a Macy's store on Sept. 9.

Ebersohl said she hopes the new ownership will make one change.

"One of the big things it to try to get a food court in the mall again," she said. "That's one of the things we really feel is lacking."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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