Funeral plans set for mall pioneer Taubman

The Detroit News

A. Alfred Taubman, the billionaire developer, mall pioneer and philanthropist, is being remembered this weekend as a generous man and a "great friend" to the city of Detroit.

"He was rare in his generosity. He was as authentic as he was outspoken," said retired U.S. Carl Levin. "He never forgot where he came from and I'll never forget him. I loved being with him and I will miss him as I mourn him."

The 91-year-old Taubman died Friday evening of a heart attack at his Bloomfield Hills home, said Chris Tennyson, a family spokesman.

The funeral will be 11 a.m. Tuesday at Congregation ShaareyZedek, 27375 Bell Rd. in Southfield, and interment at Clover Hill Park Cemetery, on 14 Mile in Birmingham, according to the Ira Kaufman Chapel website.

Taubman "had one of.the biggest hearts in America," former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer told WWJ-AM.

Taubman's son, Robert S. Taubman, chairman, president and CEO at Taubman Centers, Inc., broke the news to employees in a statement Friday.

"This company and all that you stand for were among the greatest joys of his life. Just last month he was in Puerto Rico to celebrate with us the grand opening of The Mall of San Juan," his son said. "He was so proud of what this wonderful company he founded 65 years ago has accomplished.

"Tonight, after dinner in his home, a heart attack took him from us, ending what was a full, extraordinary life that touched so many people in so many wonderful ways around the world. Right now it is difficult for me to express our sadness. … One thing that will never be taken from us is Alfred Taubman's vision that will continue to guide and inspire us."

His death comes just days after a groundbreaking to celebrate the renovation of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at UM and the addition of the A. Alfred Taubman Wing. His $12.5 million gift helped to fund the project. The donation is part of a $28 million renovation and expansion at the Ann Arbor school to help students collaborate better using classroom and studio spaces.

Gov. Rick Snyder said Taubman changed the way America shops. But his greatest legacy will be how he used his fortune to help people in Michigan and beyond.

"He was a leading donor to the Detroit Institute of Art and to our universities. Buildings bear his name at Lawrence Technological University and the University of Michigan, where the Taubman Medical Research Institute has been a leader in work to fight diseases such as Lou Gehrig's Disease," Snyder said in a prepared statement Saturday. "His generosity extended beyond Michigan, with important donations to Harvard and Brown Universities and work with the Smithsonian Institution."

Snyder added: "Sue and I extend our condolences to the entire Taubman family."

Taubman, who was named a Detroit News Michiganian of the Year in 1983, has donated millions of dollars to various causes in addition to the University of Michigan, including the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Taubman's name is found on buildings and programs throughout the state: UM"s A. Alfred Taubman Health Care Center; the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute at the UM Medical School; the Taubman Prize for Excellence; the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in the remodeled old General Motors Argonaut Building at Detroit's College for Creative Studies.

Mark S. Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan, in a statement on the university's website called Taubman " a great man — successful, generous and warm."

He said Taubman "was someone who held all those around him to high standards. He helped drive excellence at Michigan not just through his philanthropy, but by the advice he gave to multiple presidents and the fact that he held us to account to get the very most out of everything we did. Our entire community will deeply miss Mr. Taubman and his commitment to our campus and students."

Taubman was also a great friend to those who had the pleasure of knowing him, said Dr. Eva Feldman, professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, and director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.

"I spoke to him at least once a day for the past 18 years," said Feldman. "He was such a caring man. He touched so many lives through his philanthropy and leadership. He was truly my very best friend."

Feldman said she was always amazed by Taubman's vast intelligence, curiosity and passion.

Medical research was one of Taubman's many passions, along with art, public policy, architecture, education and the Jewish community said Feldman.

"He would come to the university, week after week, sometimes many days in a row," said Feldman. "He would visit the laboratories, met all of the scientists and would be in the lab looking in the microscope at stem cells."

She added that Taubman was driven to give because he had acquired so much.

"As he said, 'I have done so well Eva. Now it is my goal to help other people do good,'" recalls Feldman. "He did not just give his money but he gave of himself. He wanted to give of himself because he felt so blessed with all he had achieved. He was really one of the great men of our times."

Taubman also established and funds the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School as well as Brown University's Public Policy and American Institutions program, according to his website.

His mark was left on some of the region's most prominent developments. Taubman properties in Michigan include Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills and Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi. That list once included Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn and the Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township. Great Lakes Crossing "represented a new development venture, with more entertainment and food choices than traditional malls," according to an online company profile. The mall would go on to attract ten million visitors a year, the profile read.

The Riverfront Towers apartment complex downtown near the Detroit River, which he and industrial Max Fisher completed in 1984, was the city's first market-rate housing since World War II.

"Al Taubman has been a great friend to our city and a wonderful friend to me," said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in a prepared statement. "His loss leaves a huge hole in our entire community. I'm going to miss him terribly."

This year, Forbes magazine listed Taubman as the 577th richest person in the world with a $3.1 billion net worth. For years, he has remained on the annual rankings of the wealthy.

Taubman, who struggled with stuttering and dyslexia as a youth, built an empire as well as an impressive resume.

Adolph Alfred Taubman launched his retail career at age 11, working after school at Sims department store near his family's home in Pontiac, according to his website. He served in the Army during World War II and studied art and architecture at UM "while creating a number of small on-campus business ventures to cover his expenses." He transferred to night school at Lawrence Institute of Technology in Southfield, working at the Charles N. Agree architectural firm by day.

In 1950, he decided to launch a retail real estate development company. His first project was a freestanding bridal shop in Detroit.

Today, Taubman Centers Inc. headquartered in Bloomfield Hills owns, manages and/or leases "22 regional, super-regional and outlet shopping centers in the U.S. and Asia," the company website said. "Taubman's U.S.-owned properties are the most productive in the publicly held U.S. regional mall industry."

This week, the company announced its ownership of The Mall of San Juan had risen to 95 percent.

According to Detroit News archives, he led auto mogul Henry Ford II and prominent Detroit financier Max Fisher in outbidding Mobil Oil for 73,000 acres of undeveloped land south of Los Angeles. Analysts said the $337 million price tag was too high. But the Motown trio turned around in 1983 and sold it for $1 billion.

Throughout the 1980s, the businessman acquired Woodward & Lothrop, a Washington, D.C.-based department store chain, for $277 million; Wanamaker, a Philadelphia-based department store chain, for $174 million; two Manhattan office buildings; and three malls, The News reported.

In 1983, he gained the legendary Sotheby's auction house, which was struggling financially.

Among the achievements during Taubman's tenure: updated record-keeping; art education, storage and real estate transactions; and expansion of what could be auctioned off — including treasures once owned by celebrities. The result: An auction of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' belongings fetched $34.5 million in 1996. The blockbuster sale included $211,500 paid for a fake pearl necklace.

But he faced legal troubles. Taubman was convicted by a federal jury in 2001 for fixing prices at Sotheby's Auction House and served 91/2 months in prison before being released in May 2003.

He faced other adversity as well. In 2012, a flight attendant filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, then dropped it weeks later.

Among other efforts in recent years, his presence was felt in Detroit's historic bankruptcy, when, as president of the City of Detroit Arts Commission, he chaired an annual meeting at the Detroit Institute of Arts when the commission passed a resolution endorsing the DIA's collection as a public trust that couldn't be touched in bankruptcy.

Among his professional affiliations, Taubman was chairman emeritus of the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution and member of the National Board of the Smithsonian Associates; a founding member, Detroit Renaissance, Inc.; and a governor of the Urban Land Institute Foundation.

Staff writer Ursula Watson contributed

The Associated Press contributed.