The £600m extension of Westfield London, W12, will now open in three phases after the original opening date was brought forward by six months.
The first phase of the 740,000 sq ft extension will open on 20 March at the request of anchor tenant John Lewis, which will open the doors to its new 230,000 sq ft store.
At that time around half of the shops in the extension will also be ready and open for business, including H&M, Adidas and Boots.
A second phase of openings will take place in the summer, with Primark expected to have completed the fit-out of its 70,000 sq ft shop by July.
The restaurant and leisure tenants, most of which will be located on the lower ground floor, are also expected to open around this time.
These include Ichiba – Europe’s largest Japanese food hall at 17,400 sq ft – and the first in a new generation of boutique bowling venues for All Star Lanes, which is taking 16,910 sq ft.
Restaurants BabaBoom and Bancone are also in advanced discussions to take space.
The final opening is now scheduled for 30 October to coincide with the shopping centre’s 10th anniversary. Westfield announced in a trading update in August last year that it would open the extension early after revealing its profits rose by 20% to £456m in the six months to 30 June.
To date, 92% of the gross lettable area is let or under offer.
Fashion brands Stradivarius, River Island, Mango and former catalogue-only retailer Boden are among several new occupiers in advanced discussions to open shops.
Westfield’s director of leasing Keith Mabbett said: “Westfield is experiencing strong demand for retail, leisure and dining opportunities with in excess of 92% of the GLA.”
Final planning consent for the new restaurant, leisure and office enhancements to the scheme was granted in September 2017.
Will it be a race against the clock?
Of the 103 units available, 58 of these have exchanged. The remainder are either in solicitors’ hands or under offer.
Despite challenges in the bricks and mortar retail market, sources close to the leasing process are confident the majority of the shops will be up and running by October.
One source said: “My gut feeling is that Westfield will be 95% let by October as they always manage it.
“It will, however, have to be creative with the lettings in order to get all of the space away and I would anticipate that it will be making some soft deals for some of the big space.”
Prime Zone A rents in the centre for shops are around £500 per sq ft which is coupled with a service charge of around £17 per sq ft.
The source added: “It will have to offer something [a discount]. It will either try to keep the rents high and then offer lots of rent-free space, or it will have to drop the rents.
“If it does drop the rents, then it can make the money back on this in its five-year review.”
Since Westfield repositioned itself as the “high street of flagships”, many of the units on offer are as large as 30,000 sq ft.
There are concerns the larger units could prove more of a challenge to get over the line and ready in time. Although most of the larger units are in legals, New Look will no longer be taking its unit on the first and mezzanine floors, which means there is now a 20,000 sq ft vacancy.
A source said: “I think the market has contracted since the extension was envisaged. While the large space users want larger stores, there are not the number of retailers out there to fill the entire centre at the big rents.”
Another source added: “Westfield is tough to negotiate with, but it can’t afford three months of delays and the strength in the market at the moment is with the tenant.”
In addition, larger stores take much longer to fit out and this process can take as long as nine months.
In light of this, Westfield is offering tenants early access agreements which allows the future occupier to begin fit-out on their unit at their expense ahead of the deal completing in order to speed up the process.
If all the deals complete in time, upon opening in October, Westfield London will have a total of 450 restaurants and shops of more than 2.6m sq ft, making it one of the largest shopping centres in Europe.
Mabbett added: “The expansion has enabled Westfield London to respond quickly to the changing retailer and consumer needs enabling existing retailers to upsize and expand their flagship stores, as well as increase our retail, dining and leisure offering.”
The joint letting agents for Westfield’s expansion are CBRE, Nash Bond and Davis Coffer Lyons.