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What's in Store for Lakeland Square

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The Ledger

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Back Published: Sunday, June 17, 2007

Five Questions WITH Gil Bankston

What's in Store for Lakeland Square?
By Jeremy Maready The Ledger LAKELAND - Polk County shoppers have a lot of options and that means retailers have to compete. Lakeside Village, an open-air mall in South Lakeland, opened nearly two years ago; Posner Park is building a 1 million-square-foot lifestyle shopping center in Haines City; and the 20-year-old Lakeland Square mall continues to grow, adding more stores and targeting the growing market of North Lakeland. During the peak of the holiday shopping season, Lakeland Square received a new general manager, Gil Bankston. The New York native landed in retail management haphazardly after receiving his bachelors degree in communications from Ramapo College of New Jersey. During college, Bankston worked as an electrical engineer for the Sally Jesse Raphael, Montel Williams and Inside Edition television programs. But once he graduated he used his family connections in construction to land a gig as a grunt in mall operations. And in just a few years, Bankston had worked his way up to mall manager. The 31-year-old moved to Lakeland from New Jersey with his wife, Lauren, in December. While he had other offers in the Northeast with General Growth Properties, Lakeland Square's parent company, it was Central Florida's weather that drew him here. The Ledger recently spoke to Bankston about the future of Lakeland's retail market and the impact of growth upon the mall's business.

Q. As the cost of living in Central Florida has increased (gas prices, insurance, interest rates, home prices), do you feel that has affected mall business? Do you think malls need to reposition themselves differently in the changing economic climate? A. In today's time crunched society, it's all about convenience. Everyone is trying to get more done in

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less time but they still want a shopping "experience." Trendy coffee shops, better strollers, music selection, clean restrooms are all part of the industry focus on the shopping experience. Based on the increases in sales from year to year, gift cards are the popular choice of the convenience era. Lakeland Square is mindful of these industry trends and diligently strives to offer a positive and convenient shopping experience to our customers.

Q. The area around Lakeland Square has been a hub of residential development. How do you plan to take advantage of that? A. We are thrilled to see the residential development happening all around us. We have partnered with the developers to integrate our marketing efforts and offer information about each development to our customers. The area's growth has positively impacted the leasing efforts of Lakeland Square, garnering attention from retailers as well as commitments for new deals. Q. Is Lakeland Square attempting to redefine itself by attracting different types of retailers? (ex. Hollister, Charlotte Russe, Anchor Blue) A. Malls are always changing as the market changes. Lakeland is growing and the retail community is taking notice. Lakeland Square is attracting retailers that our customers want and we are excited to bring them to the market.

Q. With new centers like Posner Park and Lakeside Village, what kinds of things do you do to stay competitive? A. Lakeland Square is the only enclosed super-regional center in the trade area and we want to be a community partner. We are working with local schools this year to offer a new rewards program and working with Habitat for Humanity to build houses in Lakeland. Also, owned and operated by General Growth Properties is a major advantage in the retail community. GGP is the second largest U.S.-based publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). General Growth currently has an ownership interest in or management responsibility for a portfolio of more than 200 shopping malls in 44 states, as well as ownership in planned community developments and commercial office buildings. The portfolio totals approximately 200 million square feet of retail space and includes more than 24,000 retail stores nationwide.

Q. What are some of the new features and retailers that are coming to Lakeland Square? A. There are a number of expansions, relocations and new deals happening in the next year that we can't announce at this time. However, I can tell you that Burlington Coat Factory and Demo are opening in the fall as well as a new Park Avenue Menswear. We should have our new mall seating and Kiddie Kruzzer strollers installed by the popular back-to-school shopping season. Jeremy Maready can be reached at 863-802-7592 or jeremy.maready@theledger.com.

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Gil Bankston

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