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Fri, July 19

Year-old mall has had ups, downs, but manager sees bright future<BR>

Although the Gateway opened as one of Westcor's 10 regional malls, it is now one of 55 regional malls owned by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Macerich Co.

This past fall, Macerich (NYSE: MAC) bought Westcor for nearly $1.5 billion.

Currently, the local mall is about 86 percent leased, with a total of about 90 tenants. Although it has added 24 new stores to its line-up since last March, it also has lost a handful of tenants, and it will soon lose at least one more.

In December, Kate's Emporium, Lotions & Potions and Beoty's closed their doors. After being open less than a year, The Glass Table shuttered its 2,000-square-foot Gateway store (as well as its other four stores in Arizona and Nevada) in January, and, in February, Lazy Bones pulled the plug on its 1,850-square-foot store inside the mall.

This past week, American Southwest Furniture began running advertisements in The Daily Courier announcing that it was closing its Gateway store.

The store's owner declined to comment about when or why he was closing the roughly 5,000-square-foot store.

In spite of its tenant losses, the mall's general manager, Steve Conrad, remains optimistic about its future, and he is quick to emphasize the mall's positives.

For example, there are at least four prospective tenants (two inside the mall and two on free-standing pads around the mall) that are "in the hopper" and are nearly ready to sign leases, he said.

By the end of this year, he hopes to have the mall about 90 percent leased. In all, the mall has enough space to accommodate about 111 tenants.

While he acknowledges that the retail business, in general, has been on a "roller-coaster ride" for the past year or so, Conrad said that the Gateway's sales have been consistent with those seen in other malls.

He summarized that the Gateway's 2002 sales were "healthy," especially for its anchor tenants.

Still, Conrad admits that his opinion is probably biased. "This is my baby," he explained. "I've been here for two years, from blasting rock to now.

"You kind of wear your heart on your sleeve when you're so close to something."

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