The problem industry experts say: As Miami grew, the Whitmans were slow to adapt.
“The writing has been on the wall for a long time,” Weiner said. “They fought the good fight and fought it with blinders. They just assumed they could hold the line.”
A power shift
These days, the balance of power has swung and the luxury brands are the ones dictating the course. Based on the growth of Miami’s luxury market over the last decade, retailers see a need for expansion — either adding multiple stores in the region or more space to showcase their brand in a flagship store.
“[Bal Harbour Shops] will have some hefty competition now for the first time,” said Robert Chavez, president and chief executive officer of Hermes of Paris, which closed this month in Bal Harbour and opened in the Design District. “I’m sure they will continue to do well, but it will present some challenges.”
Facing those challenges directly won’t be Stanley Whitman, since his role in the company is more that of an advisor. At the helm is son Randy Whitman, who serves as managing partner and oversees the physical property upkeep. Grandson Matthew Whitman Lazenby is next in line as operating partner and responsible for leasing, the mall’s expansion and day-to-day operations.
As part of an estate planning strategy, Stanley Whitman divested his ownership in the Bal Harbour Shops more than a decade ago to Randy and his daughter Gwen Lazenby, Matthew’s mother. The other two-thirds of the mall are owned by the family members of Whitman’s two late brothers.
But even at 94, Whitman wouldn’t be anywhere else. If he’s feeling well, he comes to the office between three and five days a week, where he reads the trade magazines, signs checks and stays up-to-date on everything happening both in the industry and on the property. His quick wit and memory are still very much intact. While Randy Whitman, who at 69, is angling toward retirement, that’s not a word in Stanley’s vocabulary.
Whitman is still not shy about voicing his opinions. He doesn’t agree with the plan for the mall’s expansion that grandson Lazenby, 35, is proposing because he thinks it’s going to be too costly and take too long.
The plan, which has not yet been submitted to Bal Harbour for approval, would allow for the construction of another 225,000 square feet including more small luxury shops, a potential department store and maybe a luxury movie theater. The newest design creates a circular loop in the center of the shops, includes knocking down the existing parking garage, taking over the land now occupied by the Church by the Sea and rebuilding the church on some of the center’s existing property. The soonest an expansion could be ready would be late 2015 — and it could take until 2017, Lazenby said.
Whitman favors another design that would convert Bal Harbour’s linear layout to more of an L-shaped design. It’s similar to a plan Whitman began working on himself more than a decade ago. Ultimately, he says the decision will be left to his son and grandson.
“They’re going to live with the expansion, not me,” Whitman said. “I’ll be very happy if I live to see it. I don’t think a 94-year-old man has any business trying to control a business from beyond the grave.”