Whitman, who grew up in a small house at the intersection of 32nd Street and Collins Avenue, developed equanimity. It took five years to convince the first partners and begin construction of the century, with the support of only a few. The project cost $2 per foot — the astronomical sum for those times.
Another problem faced by the founder of Bal Harbour Shops was the ambitions of the architects with whom he often fought. Whitman was against the construction of a covered shopping center - he claimed that air-conditioning was annoying to everyone. Instead, he pointed out that the Bal Harbour Shops nestled on the Atlantic coast, and enjoyed the natural breezes from the Biscayne Bay. Obsessed with the idea of "fresh shopping", the entrepreneur invited wind experts from the University of Miami to design, in the sweltering Florida, a shopping center, which would "catch sea breezes, and direct them at the shoppers."
The first two architects claimed the project was nonsense. Whitman dismissed the upstarts, who did not get the ideas. After exhausting searches, he hired the Bureau of Herbert Johnson from Miami, which agreed to design an open-air mall.
Bal Harbour Shops opened in 1965. Originally there were 30 stores. Among the first was flagships of New York's Fifth Avenue: A toy store FAO Schwarz, menswear brands Maus & Hoffman and Abercrombie & Fitch. Whitman said: "Good-bye, Fifth Avenue", and this became the unofficial tagline of the project. In 1976, Whitman persuaded the very Stanley Marcus, the executive director of Neiman Marcus, to open the first store outside of Texas. Saks Fifth Avenue joined the Bal Harbour Shops project in 1976.
"He is the Walt Disney of the shopping industry," recalls Bal Harbor Shops marketing director and a family friend, Sheryl Steffenson. "Seven decades ago, Whitman saw a piece of land that he promised to turn into a special place, and he did it." He was an innovator.
Whitman was a pioneer in everything. He became the first who brought European luxury brands to the United States. The first who laid out asphalt parking near the shopping center. The first to charge a parking fee at the shopping center. Whitman was called a madman, but behind these decisions was a solid reasoning: the clerks and workers of nearby hotels would not occupy parking spots of paying customers who come to shop. Whitman spent a lot of money on landscaping and decorating the territory, he had planted palm trees, which are still the highlight of the property.
"I broke all the rules of shopping centers," recalled Whitman. "What I did not break, was the Highway 101 Economy."
"The man who changed Bal Harbour," says those who knew him.
In 2015, a shopping center with an area of 41,000 square meters marked its 50th anniversary and broke the record for revenue per a square foot - $2,730, which was six times the US average. So Bal Harbour Shops is now officially recognized as the most profitable shopping center in the US.
Stanley Whitman passed away on May 24th, 2017. He was 98 years old. He died in the same house that he built in 1949. Whitman kept working until his death - having transferred the management of the center to his son Randal Adam Whitman and grandson Matthew William Lazenby, he retained the role of advisor and appeared in the office three to five days a week.
He devoted his last years to the struggle for expansion of the shopping center territory. Some residents of Bal Harbour had opposed the expansion; in the 1940's, a church near the sea was demolished, and prior to that Whitman had purchased it for a similar expansion. Another fierce opponent of the expansion was Saks Fifth Avenue - the anchor store of Bal Harbor Shops. The brand representatives have stated repeatedly that the ergonomics of the shopping center would change, and the parking load would increase. 60% of parking space would need to be served by a valet, which alters the transport logistics and causes traffic problems.
Shortly before his death, the founder of Bal Harbor Shops finally received permission from the city council to expand the territory of the shopping center. The work will cost $400 million. Gabriel Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour, commented on this decision:
"What's best for Bal Harbour is what's best for me" And if it's good for the city's economy, it's good for everyone.