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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

C-Suite Convo: Shop Talk With CBL Properties' CEO

By Vicky Janowski, posted Mar 24, 2022
Stephen Lebovitz
Nearly seven years ago, CBL Properties bought Mayfaire Town Center and Mayfaire Community Center (later selling off the Mayfaire Community Center portion).
 
The real estate investment trust based in Chattanooga is one of the largest shopping mall REITs in the country, owning and managing 99 properties including malls, outlet centers, lifestyle retail centers and open-air centers. Its portfolio covers 63 million square feet of space.
 
Changing retail trends and the pandemic’s initial disruptions impacted CBL Properties (NYSE: CBL), which in late 2020 filed for bankruptcy. About a year later, the company in November emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, reducing its debt load by about $1.7 billion in the restructuring.
 
CBL’s CEO Stephen Lebovitz talked with the Business Journal about what’s next for the company and its plans for Mayfaire.
 
How has Mayfaire Town Center performed since CBL’s purchase, especially when looking at other properties CBL owns around the country?  
“CBL purchased Mayfaire in 2015 because we saw a tremendous opportunity in the asset and the market.  
 
Being a market-dominant property with no similar competition within 100 miles made the property an ideal fit for our portfolio and our long-term strategy of owning market-dominant properties in growing markets. Since 2015, Mayfaire has been one of CBL’s top-performing properties, experiencing sustained leasing demand and sales increases.  
 
In 2021, Mayfaire experienced double-digit sales increases as customers returned to bricks and mortar, which is in line with the performance of the rest of our portfolio.”
 
What does the company look like now after the reorganization, and what does that mean for how it’s looking at properties’ futures?  
“Emerging from bankruptcy in 2021 was a significant milestone for CBL and put the company in a strong financial position. Looking ahead, we have greater financial flexibility to continue to diversify our properties combining retail, dining, entertainment and other uses to better serve our communities.”
 
In what ways has the retail industry rebounded from the early stages of the pandemic; in what ways has it still not?
“Traffic and sales have rebounded considerably and in many cases are back to pre-pandemic levels. While the long-term impacts of the pandemic remain to be seen, there are learnings we can take from it as we enhance the experience at our properties for our customers.  
 
In the early days of the pandemic, we saw a considerable increase in curbside pickup services, especially as retail stores were closed to mitigate the spread. As stores reopened, we saw retailers dedicating more space to buy online-pickup in store services as well as curbside pickup. These types of service offerings were popular pre-pandemic but exploded during the pandemic. Retailers were able to quickly mobilize the infrastructure needed to support these services, and I don’t see them going away any time soon.”
 
What do you see ahead for Mayfaire Town Center?  
“Mayfaire has continued to see strong leasing demand from high-end retailers and other uses. We have a number of things in various phases of negotiation, and we’ll be excited to share more as plans are finalized.”
 
Overall, what are the retail or mixed-use industry trends you see coming down the road, particularly ones that impact owners like CBL?  
“As mentioned earlier, we are seeing sustained demand for services like BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) and curbside pickup.  
 
But I think one thing the pandemic has taught us is that people value experiences and opportunities to socialize; it’s why we’ve seen such strong demand as the pandemic has waned. As we move forward, our strategy is to redefine the mall by combining new retail, dining, entertainment, hospitality and a number of other uses. Our properties are hubs of community activity, and we look forward to creating spaces that will serve our communities for years to come.”
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