Miracle Man

The former ‘Deserted Passage’ is now a winner. How did Russell Joyner pull it off?

The International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual REcon event is the Super Bowl for retail real estate professionals. It’s going on right now at the Las Vegas Convention Center, so all eyes in the shopping-mall world are riveted on Las Vegas. Plenty of attendees have made it a point to talk to Russell Joyner, who, in eight years has turned Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood into the talk of the town.

It wasn’t always so. Opening with the new Aladdin in 2000 as Desert Passage, the mall didn’t find an immediate identity. Even an all-encompassing Moroccan bazaar theme, complete with a desert rainstorm attraction, couldn’t quite put the Passage on the city’s mental shopping map, and many charter tenants fled what was derisively called “Deserted Passage.” Owned by Trizec Properties, the mall, despite its theme, never quite synced with the Aladdin, which itself struggled. In September 2003, Trizec sold Desert Passage to developer David Edelstein and partners.

The new owners lured Joyner a few months later. He had just moved to Las Vegas in December to helm Fashion Show mall, but was intrigued by the challenge Desert Passage presented.

“After 17 years of working within big companies, it was a great change,” Joyner says. “I fell in love with the owners and their visionary support.”

One floor above the shoppers, Joyner’s office is filled with sports memorabilia reflecting several stops in his long retail career, from San Francisco to Philadelphia (he also played briefly in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1983 and the Indianapolis Colts in 1984). A poster for the 2002 Academy Awards dominates the wall opposite the door. It’s not there because Joyner’s a film buff; he was chairman of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the prime mover behind securing the Oscars’ return to Hollywood in the newly constructed Kodak Theatre, part of the Hollywood and Highland Center that Joyner managed.

His experience running a high-traffic mall with an entertainment venue and a mix of locals and tourists came in handy when he was reimagining Desert Passage into Miracle Mile, a mall that eschewed the high end for the middle market and traded out faux cobblestones for more walkable black-granite tile floors. Joyner says “Miracle Mile” was chosen not just because it connotes Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard retail district, but also to consciously embrace the 1.2-mile length of the mall.

During the changeover, which took place in steps between 2005-07, sales increased, and many tenants who were initially looking to leave not only stayed but spruced up their stores.

What a difference a name (and a redesign) makes. Since December 2009, Miracle Mile has boasted nine straight quarters of sales and traffic increases, and houses the top outlet for many retailers, such as Ultra Diamond and Frederick’s of Hollywood. Several other tenants, including Sephora, Swarovski, Victoria’s Secret and Panda Express, are in the top tier of their respective company’s portfolio.

Miracle Mile might be post-recession Las Vegas in microcosm. It’s a curious mishmash of themed and sleek, old and new. Tenants who’ve moved in since the changeover have replaced their pseudo-souk façade with brighter, individually tailored exteriors that add both cheer and character to the storefronts. About two-thirds of all storefronts have been transformed. And, despite the presence of chain retailers such as Gap and H&M, about 30 percent of the stores are locally owned. Joyner thinks this gives him an edge—deeply committed owners who view Miracle Mile as imperative to their success force everyone else to up their game.

So while mall operators and retail representatives are in town to network and strike deals, a fair number of them will be walking the black tile and talking to Joyner, taking notes. He’s worked a miracle at Planet Hollywood that they’re hoping can be replicated.