Sunday, July 17, 2005

General Manager Donna Farrell, standing above Victoria Ward's complex, is looking to fill additional space with national, regional and local retailers.


Donna Farrell is overseeing
the centers' $100M face-lift

General Growth Properties Inc., the nation's second-largest shopping center owner and manager, is banking that Donna J. Farrell, the new general manager of Victoria Ward Ltd., has the right stuff to oversee the company's first large-scale redevelopment of the property.


Title: General manager of Victoria Ward Ltd., which is owned by General Growth Properties Inc., the nation's second-largest retail owner/manager.
Age: 47
Education: Graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism/advertising and a minor in biology.
Original career aspirations: Public relations or medicine.
Pivotal career moment: Offered a position as marketing director of the Chula Vista Center in Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego. From there, she began to ascend General Growth Properties' management ranks.
Most recent position: Served as general manager of Montclair Plaza, a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center, located 45 minutes east of Los Angeles.
Career aspiration: Wants to oversee multiple properties on a regional level.

Farrell, a 47-year-old former public relations and marketing manager who honed her commercial real estate skills in California, takes the reins at Victoria Ward just as the company begins its $100 million-plus Kakaako redevelopment project. It's the most significant addition made to Victoria Ward Centers since the opening of its 156,000-square-foot entertainment complex about four years ago.

Standing on a rooftop lanai overlooking Victoria Ward holdings Thursday, Farrell discussed how the project has the potential to transform Kakaako, a community once marked by car dealerships and low-rises, into an urban village where residents can live, work and play.

"This area has a history and tradition of being Victoria Ward, and that will never go away," Farrell said. "We want to keep the sense of place that makes this shopping center unique."

Farrell is just getting acclimated to the view, but it's already changing right before her eyes. In the distance, construction workers pull out stalls in the Auahi Street parking garage to make way for about 10,000 square feet of street-front retail space.

"We like to create special places for our customers," said Farrell, who got her start in commercial real estate as marketing manager for Chula Vista Center, an 850,000-square-foot regional retail center near San Diego, Calif., located three blocks from where she grew up.

The scope of the Victoria Ward project already has been decided. General Growth, which paid $250 million to acquire Victoria Ward in 2002, began work almost immediately on the redesign and expansion of the 65-acre retail complex, which includes Ward Warehouse, Ward Centre, Ward Village Shops, the Farmer's Market and the Ward Entertainment Center.

But Farrell will have an opportunity under General Growth to shape the vision begun by Jeff Dinsmore, former general manager of Victoria Ward Ltd., as she works to finalize retail lease space and assists current tenants develop their own dreams.

"Victoria Ward is one of our most premier properties," Farrell said. "It's in the top five for General Growth."

General Growth's acquisition of Victoria Ward, which was one of the largest retail transactions in Hawaii since the company's $810 million buyout of Ala Moana in 1999, gave the company control over two of the largest blocks of retail space between Waikiki and Honolulu.

Victoria Ward's newest project is unique in that it could bring more residents to Kakaako as well as retailers, Farrell said. The company plans to replace the nearly 20,000-square-foot Ward Village Shops and nearby warehouses with an approximately 160,000-square-foot-retail center, topped by 218 residential rental apartments.

An artist's rendering, left, shows how the redeveloped Ward Centre would look from the corner of Auahi and Kamakee streets.

General Growth also will tear down the Tesoro gas station located on the corner of Auahi and Ward and replace it with another 10,000-square feet of retail space. Construction of a seven-tier garage with 1,100 parking spots, which will start early in 2006, will round out the project -- at least for the time being.

The company, though, still has some low-rise industrial holdings in the surrounding area that offer more room for expansion, Farrell said.

Most of Ward Village Shops' displaced tenants, including Crazy Shirts, Roxy Quiksilver, Xcel and Kua Aina Sandwich Shop, will be relocated to the Auahi Street parking garage retail zone by the end of this year. Others, including Jamba Juice, Starbucks, and Video Life, will have the opportunity to relocate to a new retail building at the corner of Ward Avenue and Auahi Street.

Sonia Daniel House of Style and Goma Tei will relocate to the space left vacant by ScooZee's in Ward Centre, Farrell said.

Business owners and residents in Kakaako are eyeing Farrell and the project with interest to see if General Growth's plan will continue the center's run of success, they said. Victoria Ward was once the laggard of Hawaii's retailing centers, but began teeming with shoppers and moviegoers after developers created an urban street scape that combined open-air restaurants, sidewalk cafes and theaters with local and national brand-name retailers.

Now, it's Farrell's job to take Victoria Ward to the next level at a time when great market conditions, a strong job rate and tourism growth has propelled investors to show increased confidence in Hawaii. She's looking to fill additional space with national, as well as regional and local retailers, that can grow along with the center.

"We think all of the development that is planned for Kakaako will continue to drive momentum," Farrell said. "We will continue to look for what is the best opportunity for our property to grow as a preferred destination."

Donna Farrell is given high marks by her peers for her ability to nurture retailers.

Although some retailers have expressed concerns that the popular Kakaako shopping district will lose much of its small-business focus under General Growth's ownership, Farrell said that won't happen on her watch.

"It's really rewarding to bring in local retailers on cart and watch them grow into permanent tenants," Farrell said. "Tenants, no matter what their size, are our top priority. They are the reason that we are here."

Nurturing retailers is Farrell's specialty, said Kamal Darwiche, who worked with the rising General Growth commercial real estate manager when he launched his first business, Music in the Box, at the Esplanade, a regional shopping mall in Ventura, Calif.

"She helped my business grow," Darwiche said. "I stand by her. Retailers will thrive if they take her advice."

Farrell also provided retailers with the right tools for success, he said.

"She was very good at bringing in the right tenants, hiring bright marketing managers and launching successful promotions," Darwiche said.

In addition to her skill, Farrell has the backing of General Growth's nationwide clout and its commanding presence in Hawaii to help smooth Victoria Ward's ongoing lease negotiations, said Dora Clark, a General Growth Properties vice president in management based in Chicago, the company's headquarters.

The company owns or manages more than 200 shopping complexes in the nation and has left an indelible mark on Hawaii retail with the purchase of Victoria Ward and Ala Moana in Kakaako, Queen Kaahumanu Center and Whaler's Village in Maui, and the Prince Kuhio on the Big Island, Clark said. General Growth recently took over a management contract for Windward Mall in Kaneohe and is also one of the top four finalists for the Hawaii Community Development Authority's nearby waterfront

"General Growth has expanded expertise in urban market places. Within the industry, we are second in size only to Simon (Property Group Inc.)," Clark said, adding that the company's hallmark is creating interesting projects.

"We don't do cookie-cutter projects," she said. "We like to look and listen before deciding what the best needs are for a center.

Clark, who helped mentor Farrell and watched as she turned around the troubled Moreno Valley, Calif., shopping center, said she's got a reputation within the company for making thoughtful decisions, and remaining calm under pressure.

"Donna is very fair and very upfront, but doesn't come across as aggressive and pushy, and that will fit well with Hawaii," Clark said, adding that she got to know the market while overseeing Prince Kuhio in the 1990s.

"Victoria Ward is a very important property for Ward and the skills that Donna brings to the table are critical to the center at this time," she said.

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