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Chris Jones

Closing in on an Opening: Forum Shops at Caesars

19 October 2004

With slightly more than three days to go before a star-studded gala introduces the Forum Shops at Caesars' latest expansion, marketing director Maureen Crampton seemed a bit out of place during a Monday morning tour of the popular Strip shopping center.

Dressed smartly in high-heels with a flashy diamond pendant, Crampton's attire was nothing like the T-shirts, jeans and boots common to the hundreds of contractors who buzzed about from job to job. But by the end of this week, she's confident the mall's third phase will shine in a way that befits its status as the crown jewel of Simon Property Group's vast shopping center empire.

"It's like a puzzle. All of the pieces are starting to fit together, and it's amazing to see how much work transpires over a 24-hour period," said Crampton, whose center opens to the public at 10 a.m. Friday following an invitation-only party Thursday evening.

Simon, an Indianapolis-based shopping center company, and Park Place Entertainment Corp. (now Caesars Entertainment) in February 2003 announced plans to expand the Forum Shops by 175,000 square feet.

In addition to creating room for 50 to 60 new stores and restaurants, the $139 million project also brings the mall's streetfront entrances to Las Vegas Boulevard South, where untold thousands of people walk or drive by each day.

"Our first impression will be a much more grand statement than it was before. ... People are going to stop and look up," Crampton said, citing both the mall's street presence and a three-story design that draws eyes skyward even before guests walk inside.

Once indoors, Simon hopes to wow shoppers with a tenant lineup that's big on stores new to Southern Nevada, the West Coast or the entire United States.

Juicy Couture, a popular apparel and accessories retailer, is opening its first U.S. store inside, while shoe retailers Donald Pliner and Giuseppe Zanotti; restaurants Sushi Roku and Boa; and body care/cosmetics retailers Kiehl's and Fresh are each making their Las Vegas debut at Forum Shops.

French designer Celine; Nambé home giftware; and restaurants Il Mulino New York, Joe's Seafood Prime Steak and Stone Crab, and Vosges Haut Chocolate are among the many retailers opening their first West Coast sites, Crampton added.

Several popular international brands were added to appeal to foreign travelers. About 6.4 million of the Forum Shop's 20 million visitors last year were from overseas, "and they spend three to five times as much as our (domestic) customers," Crampton said.

Another new tenant is Penhaligon's London, a British fragrance maker whose history dates back to 1870. It's expecting big things from its 825-square-foot store on the Forum Shop's second floor, spokeswoman Tara Cathcart said.

Penhaligon's Forum Shops store is just its third freestanding U.S. location, joining posh locales such as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., and New York's Madison Avenue, Cathcart said. Its products are also sold at 15 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, including the nearby Fashion Show location.

"Vegas is growing so quickly and it reaches such a broad base of customers," Cathcart said. "This is a great place for us to introduce the brand to the United States and internationally."

The Forum Shops is widely considered the most successful U.S. shopping center based upon its sales-per-square-foot, which averaged $1,432 over a 12-month period that ended in August, Crampton said. Despite this week's pending addition, Crampton said Simon expects that sales average will remain stable due to the high price points found at many new retailers within the expansion.

About 3,000 new jobs will result from the expansion, the Forum Shops' second since opening as a 283,000-square-foot center in May 1992. A western wing debuted in August 1997, which increased the center to approximately 500,000 square feet.

Could a third expansion be in store? Crampton wouldn't speculate, though an apparent lack of available land presents an obvious obstacle to further expansion adjacent to Caesars Palace.

"I don't know which way we'd go, but I'd never say never," Crampton said.