Pittsburgh's Ross Park Mall to See New Construction, New Anchor

Mar. 24--Nordstrom's exhaustive search for the right Pittsburgh home finally ended when a spot at Ross Park Mall opened up and the mall owners convinced the Seattle retailer they had plans to make the region's best-performing area mall even better.

Simon Property Group yesterday unveiled only the outlines of its ambitious plans for redeveloping the North Hills shopping center, but clearly landing a new 144,000 square-foot Nordstrom will make it easier to get it done, even if the retailer with the cult-like following doesn't plan to open until the fall of 2008.

"It's [Nordstrom] a magnet for the mall. It's a magnet for traffic. It's a magnet for sales. It's a magnet for additional tenants. It's a magnet for the community. It's a big thing," said Scott Richardson, director of development for Indianapolis-based Simon.

It took a seismic shift to open up the crack that will let Nordstrom into the Pittsburgh market.

Macy's owner Federated Department Stores Inc.'s $17 billion acquisition of Kaufmann's parent May Department Stores last year created malls in which Federated operated two stores. Eliminating overlap has meant opportunities for other chains, including Nordstrom, which has announced plans for a string of new stores, including three in New England at Simon-owned malls.

At Ross Park, the retailer will take the site held by a now-closed 205,000-square-foot Macy's. The existing structure will be torn down and replaced with a smaller building built to Nordstrom's specifications, including room for an espresso bar, a restaurant and plenty of shoe departments.

"We've wanted to be in the Pittsburgh metro area for a long time," said Nordstrom spokeswoman Deniz Anders. After hearing stories of shoppers driving west to the Cleveland area and east to King of Prussia in suburban Philadelphia to get their Nordstrom fix, the retailer can't help but believe Pittsburgh shoppers will welcome its arrival.

Widespread belief in the chain's drawing power also should fuel Simon's plans to make its top area mall even more productive. Simon also owns South Hills Village and Century III Mall, although it has put the latter up for sale. According to the company's leasing information, Ross Park draws more than 10 million shoppers a year while South Hills brings in around 8.2 million.

In building the new anchor location at Ross Park, which serves a fast-growing, comparatively affluent part of the region, the mall plans to extend the hallway to Nordstrom to make room for another 18,000 square feet of small store space.

Mall officials also were scheduled last night to talk to Ross planners about building up to four new retail or restaurant structures totaling about 65,000 square feet just outside the entrance facing McKnight Road. High on the list of coveted tenants are sit-down restaurants that can serve shoppers who want more than a quick bite at the often noisy food court.

Officials did not confirm reports that Findlay retailer Dick's Sporting Goods was considering putting a two-level store on the site of the now-empty Media Play, saying only that further redevelopment details have yet to be finalized.

Simon had to compete for the right to determine who would take the empty Macy's location, initially a Joseph Horne store and later a Lazarus, once officials at Cincinnati-based Federated decided to keep the Kaufmann's store at the mall and convert it to Macy's.

Federated held an auction of all the stores it was closing, and Simon won the bid to buy back the Ross Park lease as it was trying to line up a deal with Nordstrom, Mr. Richardson said.

Simon was not so successful at South Hills Village, where it lost its bid to control the future of the Kaufmann's site, he said. Federated worked out a multi-store deal with Reading, Pa.-based Boscov's that included the South Hills Village site and the Kaufmann's site at Monroeville Mall. Monroeville Mall is owned by CBL & Associates.

More than a few people were pleased to hear that Nordstrom finally had landed in the area.

Elected officials have been pursuing the retailer for years, partly to serve in the role of catalyst for change in spots such as Downtown and partly to serve as a sign that Pittsburgh matters in the better retail circles.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato proclaimed yesterday that the new store will be an asset to all of southwestern Pennsylvania because of its ability to attract shoppers from throughout the region.

Rosemarie Mascari, who described herself as an Estee Lauder saleswoman at the nearby Kaufmann's store, said she was so thrilled when she heard the news reports yesterday morning that she had to come in early to attend the press conference.

Ms. Mascari said she had worked at Kaufmann's since the mall opened in 1986. Now a Federated employee, she said Nordstrom combined with a remodeling of the Kaufmann's/Macy's site will boost everyone's sales. "People will come from all over to come to this mall."

Staff at the Laurie's Hallmark store on the second floor across from the planned Nordstrom site were cautiously optimistic about the announcement, although they thought three years seemed a long time to wait.

Swarovski Crystal store manager Donna Jean Nicholson is willing to wait. She believes the chain will bring more of the luxury-oriented customers that her store draws. The crystal store, which opened in late 2003, is the only one in the region's traditional malls, although there is a Swarovski store at Pittsburgh International Airport's Airmall.

Nordstrom didn't have a representative at yesterday's press conference. That might have been a good thing.

Officials from the Emerald City didn't have to hear Simon spokesman Les Morris bring up Super Bowl XL. "For the second consecutive month," he said, "Seattle is going to make Pittsburgh very, very happy."

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