Will a big mall next to Gulfstream Park boost business?

By Doreen Hemlock

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

7:27 PM EST, December 17, 2009

Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino is betting that a big new shopping mall it co-owns next door will increase revenues for both places, but the wager may turn out to be a long shot, some analysts warn.

The racino is banking on help from The Village at Gulfstream Park, a $245 million palm-filled outdoor mall that will feature more than 70 restaurants, night clubs and shops, including such housewares favorites as Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, West Elm and The Container Store. The grand opening is set for Feb. 11.

Retail and gambling often work well together, Las Vegas and Atlantic City have proved.

Gamblers with winnings may splurge on a new watch or outfit. Vacationers on gaming trips tend to be more impulsive about shopping than they would be at home. And visitors to restaurants or night clubs may just add a nearby casino to their entertainment list, said Cynthia R. Cohen, president of retail consulting firm Strategic Mindshare of Miami.

But the trick to payoff is the right retail-gaming mix for each location, experts say.

The Gulfstream complex in Hallandale Beach offers a unusual combination, with lots more stores than other casinos its size. It even has more shops than the larger Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

Furthermore, the complex starts up with stiff competition for retail in a distressed economy. Gulfstream is just minutes from Aventura Mall, one of the nation's top shopping centers, and perhaps 20 minutes from sprawling Sawgrass Mills outlet mall, an international destination for bargain hunters.

But developers behind The Village see favorable odds. They insist their mall offers different shops: more cutting-edge boutiques than Aventura and more upscale housewares than Sawgrass, for example. And the mall features a leafy Mediterranean-feel outdoors, not the indoor spaces common elsewhere.

"This mall could stand on its own," without the racino, said Brian J. Ratner, executive vice president of mall developer Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland, a partner with Gulfstream's owners in The Village. "And there are many places to gamble, but not with all the amenities too."

But will suburbanites set to bet buy a lamp first, or will moms seeking picture frames hit the slot machines?

Some South Florida consumers don't see it.

Sean Lucas, a 38-year-old former tailor from Pembroke Pines who enjoys playing poker at Hard Rock, said he wouldn't be lured to stores at Gulfstream, just like he doesn't shop much at Hard Rock. When he wins big at poker, he likely shops near his home at Pembroke Pines mall or at Sawgrass for bargains.

"It's definitely two different entities: gambling and shopping," said Lucas. "And I don't think that many at the mall will gamble either. Here at Hard Rock, they have so many people at concerts and after the show thousands just walk away to their cars."

Hard Rock executives aren't worried either. They see the Hollywood complex as a resort destination, with a 500-room hotel vital to its growing casino. Restaurants, clubs and shows help bring more people to bet. Shopping is an extra, not a mainstay.

Hard Rock Hollywood wouldn't offer Pottery Barn as a tenant, for example, said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International: "That's more shopping for home, not impulse, not entertainment."

Analysts say there's no formula for the best mix of retail and gambling at a specific site. How much of each depends on the size of a market, who lives there, who travels there, other retail options and what developers seek.

The Village expects about 75 percent local and 25 percent tourist clientele. So, offering a Crate & Barrel not found at other nearby malls could work there, said Chuck Bragtikos, president of consultants Vibrant Development Group in Philadelphia. With The Village mainly a mall with the casino as an anchor tenant, "there's not going to be a lot of overlap with Hard Rock," Bragtikos added.

Yet even the optimal mix faces a serious handicap now. Consumers, worried about jobs and the shaky economy, are limiting non-essential spending. And there's no quick fix in sight, said Pamela Joy Ring, president of The Ring Retail Advisory of Las Vegas.

"Gaming and retail are in for a very long ride for a very long time," Ring said. "Both industries are among the last on the food chain for consumers in terms of turning around."

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5009.