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The Shops At Willow Bend Has New Owners, But Will That Help?

The new owners hope to revitalize the Plano shopping mall
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Screenshot: Thompson AutoTravel | YouTube

When the Shops at Willow Bend first opened on August 3, 2001, expectations were big. But things haven't quite gone the shopping center's way. That could change now that the mall is getting new owners, Dallas-based real estate investment company Centennial and New York-based Waterfall Asset Management.

The firms are Willow Bend's third owners, following Starwood Capital Group and the mall's original developer Taubman Centers.

Twenty years ago, there were high hopes for the mall, which had positioned itself as a high-end shopping spot. But a little over a month after Willow Bend opened, the September 11 attacks happened, and the opening was, as points out, "just in time for the economy to gown downhill." Once the economy recovered, the close proximity to Stonebriar Centre didn't help Willow Bend's chances.

The Shops at Willow Bend's current occupancy is, according to The Dallas Morning News, "well below 70%," but it still has top-grade tenants like Neiman Marcus and the Crayola Experience.

Compared to the Shops at Legacy and Legacy West, Willow Bend, the last enclosed shopping mall built in Texas, harks back to a different era. The Dallas Morning News quotes Centennial’s president and chief operating officer Whitney Livingston as saying the 1.4 million-square-foot mall was "too big the day it opened."

Centennial's redevelopment plans include restarting the construction of a movie theater, a project which was shelved during the pandemic. The company is optimistic about the future of Willow Blend, saying its experience provides "a proven playbook for how to transform these complicated assets into tomorrow’s most relevant and dominant mixed-use destinations."

Will the new owners turn things around? That remains to be seen. But even before the latest purchase, hadn't given up on the mall, writing, "If new management were brought in, along with new thinking and more variety, I'm sure this could be a success story."

Centennial, of course, is also bullish. Says Livingston (via Plano Star Courier), ​​“The Shops at Willow Bend already has a strong mix of existing retail tenants and restaurants ... which lay a strong foundation and position the center well for future growth.”