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BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — A. Alfred Taubman, the self-made Michigan billionaire whose philanthropy and business success — including weaving the enclosed shopping mall into American culture — was clouded by a criminal conviction late in his career, has died. He was 91.
Taubman, who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to universities, hospitals and museums, died Friday night at his home of a heart attack, according to son Robert S. Taubman, president and CEO of Taubman Centers, Inc.
Taubman's business success spanned from real estate and art houses to the hot dog-serving A&W restaurant chain, for which he traveled to Hungary to figure out why the country's sausage was so good. He also became a major backer of stem-cell research.
But it was his rearrangement of how people shop — parking lot in front, several stores in one stop close to home — that left a mark on American culture. Taubman Centers, a subsidiary of his Taubman Co., founded in 1950, currently owns and manages 19 regional shopping centers nationwide.
Born Jan. 31, 1942, in Pontiac, Michigan, to German-Jewish immigrants, Taubman worked as a boy at a department store after school near his family's home, which was among the custom houses and commercial buildings developed in the area by his father.
Recognizing the booming post-war growth of the middle class, particularly in the Motor City, he launched his first real estate development company in 1950. He'd noticed shoppers responding to the convenience of "one-stop comparison shopping opportunity," he wrote in his autobiography. So when a friend suggested a shopping plaza in Flint, Taubman's company did something radical for the time: stores were pushed to the back of the lot and parking spaces were put up front.
It was a success, his young company took on larger-scale developments in Michigan, California and elsewhere in the 1950s and early '60s.
He was convicted in 2001 of conspiring with Anthony Tennant, former chairman of Christie's International, to fix the commissions the auction giants charged. Prosecutors alleged sellers were bilked of as much as $400 million in commissions. Taubman was fined $7.5 million and spent about a year in a low-security prison in Rochester, Minnesota, but long insisted he was innocent and expressed regret for not testifying in his own defense.
"I had lost a chunk of my life, my good name and around 27 pounds," he recalled in his book, saying he was forced to take the fall for others.