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Land and Buildings calls for management change at Taubman Centers

Activist shareholder Land & Buildings Investment Management LLC is calling for a management shake-up at Taubman Centers Inc. after what it characterized as an "abysmal" second-quarter showing by the mall real estate investment trust.

Relative to its peers, Taubman projected weak same-store net operating income growth for the year and spoke in "bleak" terms about its outlook for business, while other mall REITs "talked confidently about their business prospects," Jonathan Litt, Land & Buildings' founder and chief investment officer, said in a letter addressed to the company's independent directors published Aug. 7.

"The time has come for all of you to reject management's repeated explanations and excuses for the horrible operating performance, development strategy and shareholder returns at Taubman," Litt said.

Taubman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The letter is the latest volley in an activist campaign that has been public for nearly a year. Litt has accused Taubman's leadership of poor capital allocation and "decades of poor stewardship." He has also criticized the company for corporate governance provisions that have allowed the Taubman family to wield significant influence, and he has pushed for new independent board directors to effect change at the company. Taubman Centers' leadership in turn has vowed to refresh its board and transition to annual elections for directors.

In his Aug. 7 letter, Litt cited the fact that shareholders did not vote to re-elect Chairman and CEO Bobby Taubman at the company's June 1 annual meeting, as well as their vote for change on the board, as evidence of shareholders' waning confidence in the company's current leadership.

"At this point the only thing worth hearing would be a mea culpa from management — but after 25 years we are not holding our breath that one might be uttered," Litt said.

Taubman Centers shares were up slightly in early Aug. 7 trading, but are down roughly 24% year-to-date.