The Man behind "The Summit"

Feb 7, 2013

Beginning Sunday, the Alabama Public Radio newsroom will help premiere a new television program about business. It’s called “Alabama, Inc.” and it will air Sundays at 4 pm and 4:30pm on WVUA-TV. This week on APR, you’ll hear two stories from that opening program. Subject number two is the man behind the high-end fashion mall “The Summit” near Birmingham. Saks Fifth Avenue, Gus Meyer, Jos. A. Banks—the list of high end fashion stores “The Summit” reads like a retail who’s who. But, developer Jeffrey Bayer will tell you that it wasn’t a slam dunk when he started building the project back in 1997. “We had no idea how it would turn out,” he says. “We had never done anything like this before as a company.” And critics did consider “The Summit” different at first. Thirty to forty years of shopping malls followed a pattern, with big “anchor stores” and smaller retailers and restaurants all contained under one roof. Bayer wanted an open-air feel to the Summit, which wasn’t universally accepted. “Could an outdoor shopping center be successful after years of retail development of this size within enclosed malls?” asked Bayer.” That’s where the skepticism was.” But, apparently it worked. Phase two of the Summit in 1999 added thirty more stores to the original line-up, and a third phase brought Saks Fifth Avenue to the mix in 2001. There was one bump along the way, when the Belk department store chain bought Parisian, which already had a store operating in the Summit. Belk apparent plan was to take down Parisians’ name, put up its own, and it would be business as usual. Bayer worried that Belk wouldn’t bring the kind of quality he wanted at his shopping mall, so he responded with a lawsuit. “It was like David and Goliath,” Bayer recalled. “And, I certainly wasn’t the Goliath. So, I didn’t like doing it. But, I felt we had to do to make it work. And, I can say now it worked out okay. Everyone’s happy and I think we’re friends.” Bayer felt the lawsuit opened up the lines of communication between his company and management at Belk. And, a lesson he first learned during his days studying urban planning at the University of Alabama. All of his classmates wanted to graduate and work in a government job. He wanted to take his degree and be a developer, which left him the “odd man out” in class. “They looked at me like I had horns,” says Bayer. “Because I was a capitalist…that I couldn’t appreciate what the public sector wanted or needed. I really learned from them and I really learned how they thought, and that gave the opportunity to be more sensitive to it. And I think that’s helped us as a company with these projects.” Future plans include a new “Seasons 52” restaurant from the Orlando based Darden company. Bayer is also listening to comments from his customers that more additions, like Nordstrom, Crate and Barrel, and Trader Joe’s might work out at the Summit as well.