By Nick Diulio Photography by Daryl Peveto| February 23, 2015 |
PREIT CEO Joseph F. Coradino is shaping the future of Philadelphia shopping by thinking beyond the bags.
A man with a plan: Joe Coradino stands over the plans for Valley Mall in Hagerstown, Maryland, one of the 32 malls PREIT owns and manages.
If there’s one thing Joseph F. “Joe” Coradino knows after four decades in the commercial real estate business, it’s this: A mall is only as good as the people inside.
“Everyone likes to think our business is about buildings, but it’s really about people,” says Coradino, CEO of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns 32 malls, including seven in the greater Philadelphia area. Under his leadership, PREIT has successfully completed some of the most highly anticipated retail renovations in the region, including the opening of a Century 21 department store inside The Gallery at Market East in October, which Coradino says is just the beginning of a “Gallery renaissance” that’s about to take place. “It’s about innovation, creativity, and creating a place where people go to have an experience, not just to buy stuff.”
Even before he was appointed CEO in 2012, Coradino had already been widely hailed as a 21st century mall visionary. Since first joining the firm in 1981, the South Philadelphia native has played an instrumental role in reshaping and reinvigorating many of the region’s most prominent shopping bazaars, including a $218 million face-lift of the Cherry Hill Mall in 2009 that transformed the outdated South Jersey relic into a veritable mecca of destination shopping (and during the depths of a recession, no less).
“When we started tackling Cherry Hill, our goal was to get all of those Jersey plates out of the King of Prussia parking lot,” says Coradino from his office on the corner of Broad and Walnut Streets. “With Cherry Hill, we were up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a three-two count. And we hit it out of the park.”
Swinging for the fences meant Coradino had to court the sort of high-end retailers and restaurants that had previously enticed South Jerseyans to drive over the bridge and brave the Schuylkill Expressway. Today, the reimagined Cherry Hill Mall boasts names like Nordstrom, Henri Bendel, Crate & Barrel, Armani Exchange, Seasons 52, and Capital Grille.
The PREIT Store
PREIT also upped the ante on the mall’s most recent holiday experience, partnering with DreamWorks Animation to build the 2,000-square-foot “Adventure to Santa.” Cherry Hill was one of only eight US malls to feature the interactive journey, which puts a twist on the classic mall-Santa family photo. “Yes, the business is owning malls, but to a great extent we’re more in the business of theatrics,” says Coradino. “We had people driving from as far as Pottstown for this. I think that’s fantastic.”
This is what Coradino calls “creating cool,” and it involves very different challenges than the old cookie-cutter days of sticking department stores at two ends of a property and filling the middle with dozens of retailers. Now, he says, every mall needs its own unique identity and consumer ethos, which isn’t always easy to devise.
For instance, when PREIT purchased the Cherry Hill Mall in 2003, it came as a six-property package deal that included the Moorestown Mall, which is a mere four miles away. “They were both our children now, which was an interesting challenge,” says Coradino. “We were left asking ourselves, ‘Why would anyone go to the Moorestown Mall when they could just go to Cherry Hill?’”
The answer has been four years in the making, as PREIT focused on transforming the Moorestown Mall into South Jersey’s “premier spot to dine, shop, and be seen.” The company has converted a former United Artists movie theater into a 12-screen Regal Premium Experience with 3-D projectors. It convinced Rizzieri Salon & Spa to move from Marlton and relocate in a 14,000-square-foot luxury space inside the mall’s “boutique row.” And it added several metropolitan dining options to the mix, including Philadelphia mainstays Osteria, Distrito, and a soon-to-be-opened Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar.
“Now you have a chance to come in for a day of beauty, have lunch with your friends, and then have a dynamite shopping experience,” says Coradino. “See, it’s not just about the building. It’s about the people you want inside those buildings. And this innovative reinvention of the mall is what’s been most exciting for me. I feel like I have a chance to really put my own unique stamp on something.”
Over the next five years, the Coradino stamp is going to start taking shape at The Gallery, which may be the most highly anticipated retail face-lift in recent Philadelphia history. According to Coradino, PREIT has been acquiring real estate inside the Center City mall throughout the past decade, and the company is finally ready to begin the transformation. And while Coradino isn’t getting into specifics, he says it will comprise mostly first-to-market retailers not already doing business in the Delaware Valley.
“If you look at what’s missing in Philadelphia, it’s retail,” says Coradino. “Kansas City has better retail than Philadelphia, for crying out loud! Sure, we’ve got some great stores on Walnut Street, but that’s not enough for the fifth-largest city in the US. We have an opportunity at The Gallery to really create a retail place that attracts the office worker, the downtown resident, and the daily commuter. It’s an incredibly exciting project.”