TENANT MOVES: The outdoor lifestyle center’s occupancy rate is improving from last year’s 86 percent.
SBJ photo by WES HAMILTON
Branson Landing addresses tenant vacancies
Branson Landing managers enter the 2017 summer season trying to rebound from the highest turnover rate since HCW Development Co. LLC built the outdoor lifestyle center on the banks of Lake Taneycomo in 2006.
The occupancy rate bottomed out last year at 86 percent, said Tammy Scholten, director of marketing and entertainment for Bayer Properties, which manages Branson Landing.
The $420 million complex was hit by two parallel events: The expected end of the original tenants’ 10-year leases and an unexpected string of national retail bankruptcies.
“We’ve always run in the mid-90s, since the day we opened,” said Rick Huffman, CEO of development company HCW. “This is the most vacant we’ve been since we opened. But that just comes with the territory.”
Most of the vacancies are connected to national clothing stores’ sluggish sales. Aeropostale, Pacific Sunwear, Hollister, Dress Barn, Jos. A. Bank, Limited Editions for Her, White House Black Market and Runway Seven recently left Branson Landing. It’s unclear for Huffman and company if others might follow suit. Payless ShoeSource, for instance, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, but no stores in the Ozarks were identified in the initial closures of hundreds of stores.
Although nearly all of Branson Landing’s original occupants just fulfilled their initial 10-year leases, Huffman said, only about 65 percent extended their contracts.
Today, there is 38,501 square feet of unleased space – not including space that is leased but not yet occupied – in the total 450,000-square-foot complex.
“Everything else is awesome,” said Huffman, who receives monthly sales reports for each business. “The Bass Pro store sales are up. Victoria Secret sales are up – this is their best year ever [at the Landing], so obviously people are still buying a lot of underwear.”
Huffman said another “major national retailer” signed on, and the store will make an announcement June 29.
While retail clothing caused most of the holes at the Landing, Huffman hasn’t depended on the same types of business to fill those vacancies.
“We’re actually creating more and more entertainment-venue type tenants into the Landing,” he said. “More bands, more entertainment … more festivals are being added.”
Arcade City currently is furnishing an 11,000-square-foot arcade, 7D theater and mirror maze where Hollister, Finish Line and Claire’s used to be. Huffman also pointed to an unnamed 21,000-square-foot neon bowling alley and restaurant set to open next year.
Two other experiences already have found homes on the Landing in recent years: Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zipline that flies over Lake Taneycomo and Parakeet Pete’s Steampunk Balloon that delivers visitors to the top of an observation tower.
Branson Jet Boats LLC began launching Taneycomo excursions from the Landing on June 20. Mark Ruda, co-owner, said the high-speed, shallow-bottom drift boat takes as many as 60 people on one-hour tours that include thrilling 360-degree turns.
Ruda has partnered with father Dan Ruda on other Branson developments, such as Thousand Hills Golf Resort and Branson Mountain Adventure Park.
“Most people that have come to Branson,” Ruda said, “have not been out on Taneycomo because it is a cold-water lake now. Unless you are a trout fishermen, it might not have been something that was on your list to do.”
But the location on the Landing was key to the decision to open the business in Branson. Most competing jet boat operations, he said, are not in the heart of tourist destinations.
“You might not come to Branson knowing you were going to do the jet boat, and then see it and say ‘Hey, this is something I want to do,’” Ruda said. “We tried to do something where the customers were, not make them travel to us – but put the attraction where they are.”
Saltgrass Steak House replaced Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom last fall, and Sweet Bay Coffee Co., Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon will join the Landing in the near future, according to the property’s website.
“Every one of our food-and-beverage outlets are doing well,” Huffman said.
Other tenants are in the works, said Huffman, who was headed to Phoenix to meet with two prospects.
Some of the larger new business will cause some smaller ones, like Chico’s, to relocate within the Landing, he said, prompting some “musical chairs.”
If all of the planned additions fall into place, and no other companies exit, Huffman believes the Landing should regain its mid-90 percent occupancy by 2018.
In addition to tenant moves, the Landing is making other changes.
Wet Design of Los Angeles, will spend $700,000 updating the technology and music of the fountain this year, Huffman said, and other maintenance projects are underway to please the estimated 5 million people who visit the development each year.