When she was appointed president of the Watt Companies in 2011, Nadine Watt already had a big and well-known portfolio of SoCal shopping centers, office, and industrial that her grandfather Ray started 60 years ago. But now she's adding an unusual new focus—that's already paying off. Your publisher paid a visit.
Nadine tells us she's zeroing in on "vacation destination" retail. This month, for example, Watt opened an outlet mall in Lahaina, Maui: 150k SF in 10 pavilion buildings that arose from a rundown movie theatre near Hilo Hattie and Hard Rock, but beautifully situated on Front Street with views of the water and now 28 stores including Banana Republic, Coach, Calvin Klein, Gap, and Brook Brothers. Similarly, at the end of '12, they bought Park City's 333 S. Main, an ugly and defunct arcade, she says, which they'll convert into 20k SF of ski area-related retail and 15 luxury condos by early '15.
Why do they like the niche? "Lots of people shop on holidays with disposable cash," Nadine smiles. With her dad Scott chairman and CEO, Nadine oversees a staff of 80 and a legacy portfolio of 50 grocery- and drug-anchored infill shopping centers, from Sacramento to San Clemente; a million SF of office in Century City and Santa Monica, notably two-tower Watt Plaza; and 600k SF of industrial in Long Beach and Northridge. Their homebuilding arm, Watt Communities, currently controls 22 projects representing 2,600 lots.
Nine-year vet Allison Lynch, VP for asset management, says a recent development in their shopping centers has been the emergence of medical offerings like urgent care, and bigger and better fitness clubs. The latter's been helpful not just because it absorbs space disappearing in soft goods stores as more ordering is done online, but because it brings to the malls active lifestyle consumers who tend to spend. And Watt continues many other redevelopments, like introducing America's first new Gelson's in 12 years to their Belmont Shores center in Long Beach, where with the added allure of a CVS, Lucille's BBQ, and wine bar deck with views of the water, Allison reports the parking lot is always full.
Approaching the holidays reminds Allison of what she did throughout high school at this time of the year: Growing up near Pasadena, she would volunteer long hours placing roses on floats. Nadine, who grew up in Malibu and went to college at Georgetown, has also lived in Geneva, Fiesole, and Athens, so she speaks French, Italian, and Greek. And also the language of movies: She got a masters at USC film school (favorite flick: Out of Africa). When your publisher snapped this picture the other day, the two were off to the company holiday party at Bel Air Country Club. 2014 is shaping up to be a formative year at Watt.