Matthew Bucksbaum helped change the way we shop

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Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2013 12:00 am

Matthew Bucksbaum, who influenced how Americans shop and invest in retail real estate as co-founder of General Growth Properties Inc., the second-biggest U.S. owner of shopping malls, has died. He was 87.

He died Sunday of respiratory failure, according to a death notice on the website of Chicago Jewish Funerals in Skokie, Ill.

From a single shopping center built in the 1950s with his brother Martin, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Bucksbaum guided the company to its current stature as a leader in U.S. retail. It bought Homart Development Co., the shopping-center arm of Sears Roebuck & Co., in 1995, and the Rouse Co. in 2004, bringing with it such big-name shopping centers as Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and Water Tower Place in Chicago.

The Chicago-based real estate investment trust today owns 123 regional malls across the U.S., including Oak View Mall and Westroads Mall in Omaha, and has been expanding into urban markets, agreeing in September to buy 200 Lafayette St. in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood for $150 million. Only Simon Property Group Inc., based in Indianapolis, runs a larger portfolio of shopping malls.

In 2009, the company filed the biggest real estate bankruptcy in U.S. history after being weighed down by debt from acquisitions, including the Rouse deal. The company listed $29.5 billion in total assets and debts of about $27.3 billion. It exited bankruptcy in November 2010.

The Bucksbaum brothers took the company public in 1993, two years before Martin Bucksbaum died of a heart attack. Matthew Bucksbaum retired as chief executive officer in 1999 and as chairman in 2007.

“Martin was the financier, and Matthew was the development and operations person,” Bucksbaum’s son, John, who succeeded his father in running the company, said Tuesday in a statement released by the International Council of Shopping Centers. “They had a wonderful partnership. They had different skills that, when combined, pretty much covered the full spectrum.”

The family ceded control of the company in 2008 when John Bucksbaum was succeeded as CEO by Adam Metz.

Forbes magazine estimated that Bucksbaum and his family had a net worth that peaked at $4.1 billion in 2007, which decreased to $1.2 billion in 2011, the last time the clan was included in the publication’s annual billionaire rankings.

“To the business world, he is a pioneer who helped transform the American retail landscape,” David Keating, a spokesman for General Growth, said in an emailed statement. “To us at GGP, he is more than a co-founder; he’s an inspiration and our friend.”

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