Steve Ellman, the developer who brought the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team to a new Glendale arena eight years ago and then built the glittering Westgate City Center around it, has lost one of his last tenuous links to the entertainment and shopping district.
Lender iStar Financial seized the bulk of Westgate from the Ellman Cos. in September and last week moved in Phoenix-based Vestar Development Co. as the center's new property manager.
Vestar developed Tempe Marketplace, Desert Ridge Marketplace and other retail spots in Arizona and other states.
IStar plans to hold the property and infuse the center's retail and office space with cash and splash, according to asset manager Jeff Teetsel.
Ellman had said he hoped to stay on as property manager several months back when it was announced that Westgate faced foreclosure. He still owns billboards that were part of Westgate's distinctive design as well as some office space.
Tim Wright, vice president of the Ellman Cos., declined comment.
Teetsel, principal of Phoenix-based Teetsel Properties, said that Vestar has been charged with "re-energizing" Westgate.
"Vestar has the most experience with bringing different kinds of events that draw shoppers and we expect them to bring that to Westgate," he said. Shoppers and visitors will be able to see some of the new events as the holiday season gets underway.
A free outdoor skating rink will open for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend, complete with free skate rental for visitors, and the center will hold a tree-lighting ceremony, holiday story times and the Naughty or Nice Bar Crawl.
Ellman opened Westgate around Jobing.com Arena near Glendale Avenue and Loop 101 in 2006, three years after the Coyotes played their first game. Jerry Moyes took over ownership of the Coyotes from Ellman that same year.
Glendale had financed the bulk of the arena as Ellman promised to build Westgate. The core of the project is a 33-acre outdoor plaza of shops, restaurants, offices, an AMC movie theater and a fountain that "dances" to music . About 10 million visitors annually come through Westgate, usually around games at the hockey arena and nearby University of Phoenix Stadium. A few other events have attracted crowds to the area, but it has struggled bringing in patrons the rest of the time.
As a result, Westgate retail space is about 75 percent leased and tenants fill only half of the available office space.
Teetsel said that all of those conditions should change under the new management, which will emphasize attracting foot traffic on non-peak days when the arenas are dark.
Westgate received no bids when its auction opened at $40 million in September and iStar repossessed the project.
The new owner "views this as a longer-term hold and plans to spend money to make money," Teetsel said. "Looking for owners is not on the drawing board today or anticipated to be on the drawing board any time soon."
The economic downturn and ownership problems with the Coyotes had dragged down prospects for Westgate, but Teetsel said that the center now has the capital to make the kind of improvements that attract tenants.
by Lesley Wright The Arizona Republic Nov. 9, 2011 12:00 AM
Ellman out as Westgate manager
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