The Pier Shops at Caesars, Atlantic City's luxury mall, has often faced questions whether its Madison Avenue-style glamour could thrive in a Boardwalk retail scene otherwise crowded with inexpensive souvenir stores.
The Pier's posh names, such as Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., simply are out of the reach of the typical Atlantic City tourists, critics have said.
Well, The Pier's management has some reassuring words for the doubters.
"The bling names are doing exceptionally well," Harry Geety, mall manager for Cushman & Wakefield, said of the high-end retailers.
Still, there will be some adjustments in The Pier's tenant mix and marketing strategy this summer, in an effort to appeal to more mid-level customers. The idea is to blend the mall's upscale ambiance with more affordable shops to create "a middle-tier feel, something for everyone," Geety said.
Or, as mall spokeswoman Lisa Johnson put it: "Luxurious, but affordable - and approachable."
A new $1 million marketing and advertising plan will help reposition The Pier. Geety explained the marketing strategy will target daytrippers who come to Atlantic City to do more than just gamble. There also will be a greater push to attract female customers in the 18 to 39 age group.
The changes come amid The Pier's attempts to find a new buyer, a difficult task since former mall owner Taubman Centers Inc. defaulted on the mortgage and lenders took over in a $25 million foreclosure sale in October 2011.
Geety's firm, Cushman & Wakefield, was hired by the lender group to manage the mall. Recently, New York-based Torchlight Investors was hired by the lenders as a special servicer to help stabilize operations and sink more money into The Pier, Geety said.
For now, the mall is going into a "cooling off period" for a sale, Geety noted. He stressed there is no hurry to unload the complex, although ultimately the lenders will be looking to sell.
"We can take our time," Geety said. "We have been saying the bleeding has stopped."
When The Pier is sold, it will not be through an online auction, as was attempted last August. At that time, the mall was up for sale on the website Auction.com for a minimum bid of $20 million. The auction failed to find a buyer - and also created the false impression The Pier was a distressed property, Geety said
"That was an unmitigated disaster," he said bluntly.
The mall has since recovered from what Geety characterized as "a long period of neglect" under previous ownership. Adding to The Pier's difficulties was Atlantic City's economic downturn, including a six-year decline in casino gambling revenue.
"The casino customer is spending less at the gaming tables and at the mall," Geety said.
When it opened in the heart of the Boardwalk in 2006, The Pier was part of Atlantic City's efforts to expand its attractions beyond casino gambling. Despite its prime oceanfront location and collection of trendy retailers, the mall has not lured enough free-spending shoppers.
That's why some adjustments are being made in the tenant mix to offer lower-priced options. Geety said the mall is providing tenant incentives to create a more diversified group of retailers.
Mobile phone accessories store Cellairis already has opened. Other new additions include a combination Auntie Anne's/Cinnabon food outlet and the footwear stores Bare Feet Boutique and Shoe Be Do. Health Kingdom, which offers body and foot massages, is another new attraction.
One of The Pier's restaurants, Phillips Seafood, will transform its take-out window on the Boardwalk into Empire Burgers of Atlantic City, Geety said.
Phillips Seafood restaurant on The Pier's' third floor will remain the same.
The mall also is looking to add a new entertainment spot to boost business.
Still in development are plans to improve The Pier's parking. The mall is connected to the Caesars Atlantic City casino hotel by an enclosed skybridge spanning the Boardwalk. Many of The Pier's customers now park in the Caesars garage and make the trek to the mall. Geety said the mall hopes to make parking more convenient, but is not yet ready to announce details.
Contact Donald Wittkowski: