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Westlake Center may no longer be a mall in desperate need of a turnaround.

Spanish fast-fashion chain Zara, the world’s largest clothing retailer, plans to open its first-ever Seattle store at the downtown mall by early 2014.

Together with Nordstrom Rack, which moved to Westlake Center last year, Zara is expected to breathe new life into a shopping center that has struggled over the past decade to carve out a niche within the downtown retail core.

Zara’s store will cover two floors above the Rack and sell clothes for both men and women, as well as home décor, according to local retail experts. At around 30,000 square feet, it will occupy a significant portion of the 25-year-old mall’s leasable retail space, continuing its transformation, begun with the Rack, into a fashion destination for price-minded shoppers.

Zara, a pioneer among so-called fast-fashion companies, essentially offers imitations of new designer apparel at midmarket prices. Competitors include Banana Republic, H&M and White House/Black Market.

“It’s very stylish but much cheaper than couture,” said Barbara Kahn, director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “People will go to Zara because it’s really good at capturing cool things.”

Experts said Zara’s clothes tend to be better-made than fast-fashion rivals H&M or Forever 21, but they’re also more expensive.

Neither Zara nor Westlake’s owner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, would answer questions about the new store. A Zara spokeswoman said via email that the project is in its early stages and more details will be provided in the coming months.

“This kicks off a re-branding and re-merchandising of the entire shopping center,” said Seattle broker Brynn Estelle Telkamp, a Real Retail principal who helped Zara evaluate street locations. “It’s the first of many new things to come.”

She noted that Westlake is talking with numerous national restaurant chains about the possibility of joining PF Chang’s there.

“General Growth as a company has gone through a number of changes. This is one of the assets they believed in and decided to turn around,” Telkamp said, adding that Westlake Center was put up for sale several years ago, but “it did not trade.”

Recent Seattle transplant Holly Majcher, from Vancouver, B.C., said she looks forward to Zara’s arrival.

“It’s their interpretation of whatever is current,” said Majcher, a frequent shopper at Zara’s Vancouver store. “It’s not an actual knock-off, but it’ll be their version of the neon trend or the peplum trend.”

To make room for Zara, Seattle-based gift shop Fireworks moved to a temporary location elsewhere at Westlake Center. Fireworks owner Michele Manasse said Zara will draw more customers to the mall.

“One of the problems with Westlake Center is it’s never had true anchors, and Zara will help with that,” she said.

Based in Galicia, Spain, Zara’s corporate parent, Inditex, has more than 5,900 stores in 85 countries. But it has been slow to expand in the United States, where it has about 50 stores, including in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Zara might not limit itself locally to a single store downtown.

Real-estate developer Kemper Freeman said Zara is “very interested” in opening at the Bellevue Collection, which includes Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square, although he gave no details about where the store would go.

“I think they’ll do one store in the market, let it play out for a year or two, and then they may go to the other side of the lake,” Telkamp said.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or and Sarah Elson: 206-464-2718 or