PREIT's Joe Coradino on the art of remaking malls

Joe Coradino, the president of PREIT, speaking at Temple University's Fox School of Business, mostly about the art of remaking malls.
Joe Coradino, the president of PREIT, speaking at Temple University's Fox School of Business, mostly about the art of remaking malls. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 21, 2014

Joe Coradino is the ultimate mall rat.

His job requires it.

As chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), Coradino oversees 35 enclosed shopping centers, mostly up and down the East Coast, including some of this region's largest and best known, among them Cherry Hill, Plymouth Meeting, the Gallery at Market East, Exton Square, and Willow Grove Park.

Who better, then, to address retail trends as part of the Executive Speaker Series at Temple University's Fox School of Business.

Coradino spent the bulk of his talk there Wednesday educating his audience of MBA students on the art of remaking malls, which have been a staple of American life since the 1970s, but that, like many things from that decade, need a bit of updating to be relevant today.

He declined, however, to get into specifics about his firm's latest renovation project, the Gallery, pleading Securities and Exchange Commission regulations regarding a CEO's responsibilities to shareholders of a publicly held company.

As a result, Coradino offered no details beyond what already is known: that PREIT now owns a three-block stretch of East Market Street and is in the process of reinventing the Gallery with new retailers and a possible new direction heavy on food and fast fashion.

Whatever the end result, it appears certain to contribute to a critical mass of announced projects along East Market, including a residential tower at Seventh and Market Streets and a $500 million remake of a section of Center City bordered by 11th and 12th, Market and Chestnut Streets.

The hope is to turn a rather dowdy area into a downtown destination.

Which, by coincidence, is what Coradino said his firm tried to do with the suburban malls it owned: Replicate a downtown experience with restaurants, theaters, even health-care centers - activities beyond simply shopping.

"You need to see a mall as a place where people do more than shop," he said. "It is a place you go to have experiences."

And so PREIT tries to provide them. For good reason.

"Our studies show if you go to the mall for dinner or the theater, 70 percent of the time you make an ancillary purchase," Coradino said. "Shoppers who go simply to shop make purchases 50 percent of the time."

That's right, you're more likely to buy something when you're simply having an evening out.

Beyond touting the magic of malls, Coradino offered a variety of insights gleaned from years in retail and corporate leadership.

For instance, he bemoaned the fact that he no longer shared in the hands-on fun he experienced when, as an operations manager, he was on the front line in the remaking of a shopping center.

"You become CEO, and it's more nose in, hands out," he said. "I'm not going to do. Once you start doing, you are not doing your job."

He also was critical of the state of high-end retail in the city, noting that its shortcomings were an impediment to luring more international tourism.

"Philadelphia does not have great retail," he said, before rattling off better places for high-end shopping. "Kansas City has better retail than Philadelphia."

Coradino smiled.

"We think that is an opportunity."


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