Up Close With Stanley Whitman
Back when he was a kid in Miami Beach, 95-year-old Stanley Whitman saw saltwater crocodiles on the beach. These days, he sees even more opportunity for luxury retailÂ with the 200k SF expansion of Bal Harbour Shops on the island where the 'crocs used to roam. (Because, let's face it, 'crocs are terrible about staying on top of their loans.)
"Writers romanticize Miami Beach before it was developed, but that's a lot of baloney," he says. "It was a sand bar with a mangrove swamp. Development made it the beautiful place it is now." Stanley grew up in a house his parents built at 32nd and Collins, where the Saxony Hotel stands today. The beach was right there, so he and his brothers spent a lot of time swimming and fishing, and they also became among the first people on the East Coast to take up surfing. He went to college at Duke in the late '30s, where he met his wife Dorothy, to whom he was married for 66 years before her passing in 2008. During WWII, Stanley rose in the US Navy from apprentice seaman to lieutenant commander, serving in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
"When I was in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, and when the war was over, I did what people who aren't trained to do anything else do. I went into real estate," Stanley tells us. (Nowadays people who aren't trained to do anything else go into writing about real estate.) Soon he was building houses and buying and selling oceanfront property on behalf of an important investor--his mother--from the Keys to Hallandale Beach. With the profit he made on those deals, was able to acquire the future shopping center site at Bal Harbour in 1958, which (among other things) had been the site of a POW camp during the war. Stanley also managed the high-end stores his mother owned on Lincoln Road, acquiring experience with that kind of retail. (Stanley's snapped with the next two generations: grandson Matthew Lazenby and son Randy Whitman.)
Stanley says the development of Bal Harbour Shops was about being the right man in the right place at the right time. "I knew luxury retail from managing on Lincoln Road, and I knew by the 1950s, high-end merchants were leaving there," he says--and in Bal Harbour, he had a site with the potential to capture the tourist trade. "Bal Harbor Shops would have been impossible without the tourist business then, and it would be impossible now," he says. Since opening in 1965, the 450k SF Bal Harbour Shops has been wildly successful. With a few exceptions, sales have increased every year. At the end of 2012, sales per SF were more than $2,700, and Stanley says this year's been even higher--making it the No. 1 retail property in the world by that metric, according to ICSC.
Recently ULI recognized the Whitman family with a lifetime achievement award for creating and growing Bal Harbour Shops. Stanley expects the property to continue its success, with Miami as the nation's No. 1 draw for tourists, foreign and domestic, and the expansion in the works, the better to compete with the rising tide of luxury shopping elsewhere in Miami-Dade. As elder statesman and advisor, Stanley himself comes into the office at least three days a week with his son Randy, managing partner, and his grandson Matthew, operating partner, who runs the shops day-to-day and oversees the expansion. Though health considerations eventually put an end to it, Stanley was an avid tennis player for many years. Snapped: Nick Buoniconti, Gigi Whitman, Randy, and Stanley.