Updated 5 yearss ago
With developers bidding for retail dominance in fast-growing Broward County, a turf battle erupts.
A high-stakes battle has erupted between two shopping mall development companies over a tract of public land in the once-sleepy expanses of west Broward County, replete with charges of secret deal-making and questions about how much retail business the area can bear.
The dispute arose in May when Sunrise City Manager Pat Salerno announced plans to lease a tract of undeveloped city land to Sunrise Land Group, a development company owned by Wayne Huizenga. Huizenga plans to build a $200-million upscale mall not far from the city's new $192-million, publicly financed arena, the National Car Rental Center -- home to the Florida Bobcats, an arena football team, and Huizenga's Florida Panthers NHL hockey franchise. By agreement, the mall must be anchored by at least three high-end retailers, such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales. Target opening date: early 2001. A retail development such as this one, explains Salerno, offered an attractive alternative to a proposed high-density residential project that would have placed a heavy burden on city services and nearby schools.
The tract, however, is only about a half-mile from Sawgrass Mills, touted as the world's largest outlet mall at 2.2-million square feet. After learning of the deal, Sawgrass Mills' owner, the Virginia-based Mills Corp., cried foul. It filed suit against the city of Sunrise, alleging it acted improperly by negotiating secretly with Huizenga's company. Mills Corp. says that had it known the city was shopping the land around for lease deals, it might have floated its own proposal. In any event, company officials contend, the region cannot support two major malls. Mills Corp. placed full-page ads in local newspapers explaining its opposition to the deal.
City officials insist they did nothing wrong. What, they ask, could they have gained by negotiating in the dark? Alex Muxo, vice president of Sunrise Land Group, says his company hatched the mall plan only after the city asked for an alternative to the residential project. Muxo says Mills Corp. is simply afraid of a little competition. "We wouldn't be wasting anyone's time if we weren't convinced it can work," he says.
Although it opposes a second mall, Mills Corp. is not entirely against the idea of new development. Shortly after hearing of Sunrise Land Group's plan, Mills Corp. proposed adding an 800-unit upscale apartment tower at the entrance to Sawgrass Mills. It also announced its intention to proceed with a 550,000-sq.-ft. expansion of Sawgrass Mills, which it proposed, then shelved, three years ago. With the additional space, Sawgrass Mills likely will want to attract additional anchor tenants, perhaps a high-end retailer.
Even with such an expansion, Muxo believes both malls can flourish. "We're right in the center of the tri-county area, within 45 minutes drive time of roughly 4.5 million people," he says. "This is an ideal place to be doing business."
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