Dalian Wanda Group has announced that it will be opening 17 Wanda Plaza shopping centers this month after China’s largest commercial real estate developer celebrated the opening of its 300th plaza in the Hubei provincial city of Xianning in late November.
In announcing the opening of its 300th shopping centre Wanda gave few details concerning the 105,000 square metre property, focusing instead on the 1.3 million jobs that the company says its projects have created since the Beijing-based firm began developing shopping centres in 2000. The politically-savvy developer was also quick to point out the contributions that its fleet of Wanda Plazas has made to growing China’s service sector — a pillar priority of the central government.
With more shopping centres having opened in the final days of November, Wanda now says it will have opened 323 Wanda Plazas in China by 31 December. The announcement of Wanda’s latest milestone comes just over five years after the company founded by billionaire Wang Jianlin opened its 100th shopping centre in 2014, as the former PLA officer takes his real estate company on its own long march back to stability after a disastrous overseas investment campaign.
New Mall Demonstrates Wanda’s Partnership Approach
The 300th addition to Wanda’s mainland mall portfolio bring the first enclosed shopping centre to Xianning, a city with an urban population of just over 512,000 people nearly 300 kilometres (180 miles) northeast of Hubei’s provincial capital of Changsha.
Xianning Wanda Plaza is the developer’s 13th shopping centre in Hubei province, and was opened just over one year after Wanda announced a partnership with the mall’s developer, Nanjing-based Hongda Construction Group, to complete a project that had earlier been envisioned as a home improvement centre.
With the development next to Xianning’s Wuxian Intercity Rail among the city government’s key projects, Wanda agreed in September 2018 to help convert the unfinished retail property into a consumer shopping centre. Now completed, the project, which includes a 275-metre indoor shopping street, holds 200 retailers, according to Wanda, including an IMAX theatre and 40 food and beverage outlets.
At the time that they signed their agreement last year, the partners said that the shopping centre, which occupies a 46.73 mu (3.1 hectare) site, would involve a total investment of RMB 650 million. The division of responsibilities between the two parties has not been specified, however, since 2017 Wanda has pursued an “asset light” strategy, under which it teams up with finance firms or other backers to build new projects, rather than keeping new malls on its own balance sheet.
Opening 300 Malls Across China
Wanda’s latest mall in Hubei is soon to be followed by the opening of four new plazas on December 20th, with another three centres to be opened on both the 28th and 31st of this month.
The majority of the new locations, like Xianning Wanda Plaza, are located in lower tier cities, although the company is also opening one shopping centre each in Shanghai’s Pujiang district and another in Guangzhou. Also among the 17 new locations to be opened this month will be Wanda Plazas in the Liaoning provincial capital of Shenyang, Hefei in Anhui province and Chongqing’s Nanchuan district.
With Wanda now having opened shopping centres in 188 cities in 30 provinces or municipalities in China, the company estimates that each Wanda Plaza creates 4,000 jobs.
In what could be a coincidence, in early December 2018 Wanda also announced that it would open 17 new Wanda Plazas that month.
Back to Mall Development Strategy
Wanda has focused on expanding its mall portfolio in recent years after it was forced in 2017 to retreat from a $5 billion campaign to acquire hotels, offices and other real estate assets globally.
Over the past two and a half years, after the government called out Wanda as a dangerously indebted company, Wang’s firm has sold off nearly all of its $5 billion overseas portfolio as well as liquidating much of its hospitality and cultural divisions on the mainland.
In July 2017, Wanda sold a 91 percent in its 13 theme park-based development projects to Hong Kong-listed Sunac China for RMB43.8 billion and 77 hotels to Guangzhou’s R&F Properties for 19.9 billion.
Then in October last year, Wanda cut another arm off by selling its tourism management business to Tianjin-based Sunac for RMB 6.28 billion.
In June of this year Dalian Wanda was reported by the Wall Street Journal to be planning to list a real estate investment trust on the Singapore stock exchange, in a deal that could value a portfolio of properties at over $1 billion. The company’s fleet of Wanda Plazas would be the likely source for the listed company’s assets, however, the ensuing months have not carried fresh news of a potential Singapore REIT listing for Wanda.