REAL ESTATE

Beverly Center joins a rush for mall makeovers

The Beverly Center, like many long-standing Southern California malls, is getting a makeover.

The eight-story indoor shopping center at the corner of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards will be undergoing a "comprehensive renovation," according to Robert Taubman, chief executive of mall owner Taubman Centers.

"This will be a very expensive project," Taubman said in a conference call discussing fourth-quarter earnings with analysts and investors last week. The goal is to create the city's "most exciting, dominant urban shopping and dining experience."

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Beverly Center representatives declined to disclose more details ahead of an official news release scheduled for March 7.

The Beverly Center's renovation is coming at a time when shopping centers around the country are freshening their appearances to compete with that younger upstart: e-commerce. Many are adding more dining and other experiential elements to attract customers who increasingly are shopping on their smartphones and tablet computers.

Westfield Century City is in the midst of a massive $800-million makeover, including adding a Nordstrom department store and a food emporium. The Irvine Spectrum will undergo a $150-million remodel that will usher in 20 new stores.

Just a few years ago, the once-enclosed Santa Monica Place was reborn as an airy space with views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Malls have typically undergone occasional face-lifts to remain relevant to shoppers, but now these changes are crucial, analysts said. Many shopping centers must upgrade or face possible extinction.

"Malls have got to change, because people are bored with malls," said Ron Friedman, a retail expert at advisory and accounting firm Marcum.

"You have got to have more entertainment in malls," he added. "They have to create an environment where you can use the Internet, and have a cup of coffee and a sandwich."

A sharp drop in traffic was evident during the holidays, usually the busiest time for retailers.

During November and December, 19% to 21% of U.S. consumers shopped at malls every week, down from 23% to 26% of consumers a year earlier, said Britt Beemer, founder of America's Research Group.

Los Angeles, like many major markets around the country, has about 20% to 25% more shopping centers than its population can support, Beemer added. Some malls will eventually have to close, he said.

The vast changes in retail are driven largely by technologically savvy millennials, Friedman said. Many prefer specialty shops to department stores, and online shopping to bricks-and-mortar stores.

"When baby boomers become older and stop shopping," Friedman said, "department stores, which are your anchors, will have major problems."

The Beverly Center's last major renovation was completed in 2001, with revamps to areas such as the food court and valet parking. A more modest remodel in 2007 focused on the escalators.

Upscale malls like the Beverly Center, whose collection of luxury brands includes Prada and Burberry, are under even more pressure to hold onto their upscale clientele, analysts said.

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Wealthy shoppers go to an average of 1.5 malls on each shopping trip, down from 2.8 malls in 2001, Beemer said. Middle-class customers visit 1.2 malls per trip, down from 2.1 in 2001.

"When you are a fashion-center mall, you'd better be up to date," Beemer said. "The fashion customers are always the most critical of their shopping surroundings."

Keeping up appearances is even more important when attracting foreign tourists, especially those from Asia.

The Beverly Center gets dozens of buses of Chinese tourists a month. It hosts Lunar New Year celebrations, and also has profiles on Weibo and WeChat, two popular communication services in China.

Besides the shopping opportunities, Asian tourists want a luxurious environment for one main goal: better selfies. Many were, after all, early adopters of the selfie stick, those now ubiquitous plastic rods that better enable people to take endless smartphone photos of themselves.

"Asian consumers love taking selfies of themselves in beautiful new stores to show friends when they get home," Beemer said. "The more upscale you are in your appearance, the more they are likely to shop you."

In Southern California, the balmy weather also allows for year-round outdoor browsing. Open air shopping centers such as the Grove and the Americana at Brand have flourished, providing one-stop destinations for Angelenos to eat, shop and even loll in the grass listening to concerts.

Many malls are concentrating on expanding their food options, hoping that diners enjoying a meal out will also boost traffic to neighboring retailers.

After its remodel, Westfield Century City will get the first California branch of Eataly, the gourmet Italian food market that is co-owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali. There will also be eight acres of open space, including gardens and plazas.

Analysts said the Beverly Center probably will announce major changes to its restaurants and dining area. Revamps will also probably mix up its retail lineup.

"It's a smart move to revitalize," Friedman said. "The Beverly Center isn't that old, but it has to stay relevant."

shan.li@latimes.com

Twitter: @ByShanLi

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A version of this article appeared in print on February 17, 2016, in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Beverly Center joins a rush for mall makeovers - The growth of e-commerce has shopping venues upgrading to compete." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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