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Westfield London set for lift-off

Developer Westfield is confident its White City scheme will not just open on time, but will also prove to be a long-term success.

There are two common questions that crop up in relation to Westfield’s epic White City shopping development whenever the subject is discussed with anyone not directly involved: one, will it open on time? And two, will the shoppers come?

The first is an easy answer, says Westfield’s director of leasing David Slade, and it’s a yes. At the time of Drapers’ site visit earlier this month, the centre was almost 94% leased, and with several retailers’ pens hovering over contracts the 100% opening target by Thursday October 30 was looking comfortable. The anchor sites, Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, Next and Debenhams have already taken occupancy of their stores, which sit at the four extremities of the doughnut-shaped centre, with other sites being handed over during the next couple of months. All the stores in the centre will open on that fateful Thursday come what may, says Slade.

“We’re a cash flow-driven business and most of our rivals are value-driven, and it’s a different model,” he says. “I say to our people ‘if we’ve got a vacancy at £350,000 a year then that’s a grand a day we’re dropping. Once you’ve made a commitment to do it, you’ve got to do it, because you can’t let some not open – it’s not fair to the others.”

Australian group Westfield, which has interests in 118 shopping centres worldwide, doesn’t do things by half. Slade recounts a story of when he was working on a centre in Sydney and was handed a gift from Westfield joint managing director Stephen Lowry. “He bought me a baseball cap with FNAO on it. I asked what FNAO meant, and he replied ‘failure is not an option’. And it’s not, is it?”

As well as opening on time, the vast centre, which feature two kilometres of shopfronts, will be finished to a standard not previously seen in UK shopping centres. The undulating glass roof, which was conceived to maximise natural light, cost of £40 million and celebrated US architect Michael Gabellini was drafted in to design luxury zone The Village. Features here include faceted glass shopfronts, a spectacular chandelier and water feature, and an Italian terrazzo-style floor.

According to general manager of retail design Paula Wyllie, this attention to detail has encouraged retailers to go the extra mile with their shopfits, and once they visit the site many upgrade their stores to flagship status. “If the retailers see we’re committed, they commit,” adds Slade.
But will the shoppers commit to coming? White City, which is in the London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, certainly has a lucrative catchment area. Kensington and Chelsea are a stone’s throw away, as are the wealthy environs of Notting Hill and Holland Park, and with the M4 practically terminating on its doorstep the home counties to the west of London are also easily accessible. All the same, Westfield is taking no chances. Considerable transport investment has been made to widen its potential customer pool and it is anticipated that 60% of the centre’s projected 20 million shoppers a year will travel by public transport.

Initiatives include a new transport interchange to the south of the scheme including overground trains, tube and buses, a new station on the Hammersmith & City underground line called Wood Lane, a redevelopment of Shepherd’s Bush station on the Central Line, and a new overground station on the west London overground line that will serve Clapham Junction to the south and Willesden Junction to the north. For those who insist on taking the car, there are 4,500 parking bays and a valet parking service, conceived with The Village customer in mind.

To raise awareness of Westfield London ahead of its opening, Yellowdoor, the agency owned by Mary Queen of Shops star Mary Portas, has been drafted in to handle PR. Yellowdoor’s remit stretches beyond the launch and will include making the most of the football-pitched sized atrium event space, which is flanked by a cinema and food courts. Ideas being discussed include fashion shows, exhibitions and film premi貥s.
Advertising will be handled by fledgling agency Adam & Eve, which was co-founded by James Murphy, formerly of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe Y&R, and one of the masterminds behind Marks & Spencer’s Your M&S campaign. “They have a very big idea,” promises marketing manager Linsey Wooldridge. “They know retail and they get retail, and for a bunch of guys they really love shopping.” The big consumer push will start at London Fashion Week this September. “We didn’t want to start too early,” adds Wooldridge. “Londoners have very short memories.”

So all the ingredients seem in place for a successful launch; full occupancy, exciting retailers (there are 22 new overseas names in the centre), a beautiful environment, easy access and hotshot PR and advertising agencies. But one thing Westfield can’t control is the economy, which is unlikely to show any signs of recovery come October. Slade, however, is unperturbed. “We’ve achieved some of our biggest successes in down times rather than in high times,” he says. “You tend to be dealing with better retailers because they are the ones who want to move forward. There will be some natural attrition at the bottom, but the cream floats to the top.”

Whatever happens on October 30, the Westfield team won’t have time to stop and pat themselves on the back, as they have a similar project underway in Stratford, east London, which is due to open in late 2010 or early 2011. “When you’ve finished it’s a relief but you don’t crack open the champagne,” says Slade. “By the time we’ve finished here we’ll be halfway into leasing Stratford.”

Retailers’ views

“Westfield London sets a new benchmark for shopping centres, architecturally and in terms of the customer experience. We do not forecast significant cannibalisation for our Debenhams store but I do suspect some sales will come from the Bluewater shopping centre.”
Angela Spindler, managing director, Debenhams
“We’ve secured a great site and will have one of our most dramatic concept shops. The architecture of the mall itself and the great brand mix was the main attraction for us and we are excited to be part of it.”
Harald Winzer, managing director, Thomas Sabo

“A review of west London identified an untapped opportunity in the area. The new store will provide our customers with an inspirational shopping experience.” Clem Constantine, property director, Marks & Spencer

White City in full colour

- About five years after building started, the scheme will open on October 30A
- At the time of writing the centre was 93.7% let and is due to be 100% occupied by its opening date
- It will be anchored by Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, Debenhams and Next
- A key feature is The Village, which will house 40 luxury retailers including Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and Kurt Geiger
- Other fashion retailers confirmed include Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Topshop, Hackett, Gerry Weber, All Saints, Bershka, Calvin Klein, Coast, Dorothy Perkins, French Connection, Jaeger, Mango and Reiss
- There will also be a 16-screen cinema, health club and library
- There will be 40 places in which to dine
- The centre will be open from 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday and 12pm to 6pm on Sundays. Some restaurants will open until midnight

Westfield in detail

£1.6bn: Investment in the Westfield London urban regeneration project
20 million: Expected number of visitors to Westfield London per year
2,300: Number of people on-site during the build
7,000: Number of jobs created by the development
265: Number of shops at the shopping centre
1.6m sq ft: Size of the Westfield London site
4: Number of tube stations that will service the centre

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