Cullinan’s Stephanie Webster on current challenges in retail expansion

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
Al Urbanski
Webster: “Municipalities want to see projects move forward. They’re crucial to their tax bases.”

Stephanie Webster packs more than 20 years of wide-ranging experience behind her title of SVP and director of development at Cullinan Properties. She was a construction company project manager before joining the East Peoria-based developer in 2003 and worked her way up by maintaining close contact with tenants. 

Chain Store Age asked Webster to tell us what challenges retailers are having hitting their expansion goals during a period of record-low new construction.

New retail construction seems constricted to warm weather states. Cullinan has many properties in the Midwest. Have construction costs slowed you down?

Our experiences extends as far north as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and south to Florida. Each area presents its own specific opportunities. We engage in a relentless pursuit to achieve the best values and have learned to be creative with material selections. We also are leveraging our experience in renovating and reusing existing space to save time and lower the costs of shell construction.

What kinds of price rises or non-availability in labor and materials have you had to deal with?

We’re fortunate to have great relationships with our contractor partners and their trade partners. As much as we can, we try to work with local resources and suppliers. When faced with long lead times, we order materials far in advance.

Cullinan has long and sturdy relationships with municipalities in its regions. Are they reacting differently in issuing permits or approving entitlements?

During this difficult period, maintaining consistent and open communication with local government officials is essential. Municipalities want to see projects move forward, too, of course. They’re crucial to their tax bases. Our experience is that they are willing to review permits in stages—individually assessing site, foundation, and shell, for instance—to allow projects to move forward.

National brands with stated expansion goals keep expanding, despite the cost and lack of availability, isn’t that true?

Yes, national brands do keep expanding for various reasons.  They’re looking to expand their geographic presence or increase store counts or try new formats. We have been working with several of them during this period of low availability. Deal terms are ranging from tenant construction with landlord participation to turnkey deals.

Retailers have a continued need for more space, and we could not be more excited to have one of the only super-regional projects under construction right now—RockRun Collection in Metro Chicago.

What advice would you give to retailers who are having difficulties meeting their expansion goals?

Call Cullinan Properties! While our occupancy rate is very high, we still have opportunities within our portfolio and a 310-acre project under construction—RockRun—right now. We have seen a range of opportunities for retailers to expand in markets nationwide and our experience tells us that making bold moves when others are paralyzed will often result in success.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds