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Local Malls: Battle Of Behemoths

Oyster Bay residents may not want to hear it, but Tuesday night’s referendum won’t end the pitched battle over retail development in Syosset-Jericho.  

The votes are still being tallied as of press time, but the behemoth competitors facing off—Simon Property Group Inc. of Indianapolis and Taubman Centers Inc. of Michigan—have been fighting each other for a long time, in a lot of places. Yea or Nay, the vote won’t scare either away from the primo piece of undeveloped land at the edge of the Gold Coast.

Simon and Taubman have a lot in common. Maybe that’s what makes them such bitter corporate enemies.

Both are family-built high-end mall developers that have grown into huge and hugely profitable real estate investment trusts, or REITs. They went public at about the same time: Taubman in 1992; Simon in 1993. Taubman shares, worth $13 in Nov. 1993, had grown to $71 by the end of last month. Simon’s share price rose from $22 to $155 in the same period. Simon touts its size—241 million square feet of retail in 325 locations in the U.S. and Asia. Taubman brags about sales—an average of $688 per square foot in 2012, up 7.3 percent from 2011.

When the two battle, it’s like watching Godzilla take on Mothra or Foreman vs Ali.

Simon even once ventured a hostile takeover. In late 2002, the Indianapolis-based developer offered $1.48 billion for its rival and was summarily rejected by the board. Over the following year, Simon sweetened its bid three times—eventually to $1.7 billion—and took the fight to shareholders and to court. The parties traded accusations much as they are doing now on Long Island: Simon denounced the Taubman family for “secretly conspiring” while Taubman charged that Simon “distort[ed] testimony to paint a lurid and utterly inaccurate picture.” Simon finally gave up in October 2003 after Michigan changed its takeover laws to protect the Bloomfield-based developer.  

That rivalry continues unabated. This month, in Chesterfield, Missouri, both companies are having ribbon-cutting ceremonies on the same stretch of highway near St. Louis. Taubman Prestige Outlet Mall opened Aug. 2; Simon’s competing St. Louis Premium Outlets is set to open on Aug. 22. According to local news reports, Simon—more experienced in outlet malls—has the edge with tenants, while Taubman has the better location. Those projects faced local opposition, too, and as recently as last year a town official said there could be only one. Yet both have been built.  

Here on Long Island, the two are fighting over retail rights on some Syosset-Jericho property conveniently located by the Expressway. The lots are large, which is rare at this stage of LI development. Taubman already owns a chunk, and wants to build an upscale Gold Coast mall—the company’s first outpost in New York.

That would threaten Simon, well-entrenched on Long Island with the Walt Whitman and Roosevelt Field malls nearby. It would also threaten one of Simon’s partners in the Syosset project, Castagna Realty Co., which owns Americana Manhasset.

Already, the two sides have been poaching from each other. Early on, Taubman announced Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Nordstrom would be among its anchor tenants. With Nordstrom a Roosevelt Field tenant since 1998, it was surely a shot across Simon’s bow.

In 2007, Barneys abandoned Americana Manhasset, announcing plans to move into Taubman’s Syosset location.

But with the project stymied, Simon was able to entice Neiman to Roosevelt Field, pitching a major redevelopment including new buildings to open in 2015. Taubman opponents say Barneys has dropped out of the Syosset project too, although all three retailers are still listed as anchor tenants on the Taubman website. If Taubman can get permission to build, it may well tempt those retailers back again.

With Gold Coast consumer dollars at stake, the fight will surely rage on.