Designs for the Outdoors

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If you think developers throw caution to the wind when designing open-air shopping centers, think again. Today’s top developers appreciate architecture and design as much as anyone else, but the scope and scale have to make sense in today’s tumultuous economy.

Think smart: Anthony Cafaro Jr., VP of real estate, leasing and construction for the Youngstown, Ohio-based Cafaro Co., is quick to say that design and architecture is important—but it isn’t everything. “In the near-60 years that we have been in this industry, it’s refreshing to see that the fundamentals of shopping centers are coming back into play,” said Cafaro. “While aesthetics have played an important role in the past five to 10 years during the birth and evolution of the lifestyle center, developers and retailers are recognizing that it is the basics—location, accessibility, demographics, population base and merchandise mix—that will ensure shopping center success.”

The newly minted Village at Towne Centre, the lifestyle component to Cafaro’s Spotsylvania Towne Centre development in Fredericksburg, Va., is one example of Cafaro’s attention to detail while still applying best practices in design and construction. “We’re still providing the customer, and the retailer, the appropriate setting for a comfortable, attractive and inviting shopping and dining environment—and we’re getting the best bang for our buck, which is something we really believe in,” noted Cafaro.

While The Village at Towne Centre is on the grandiose side of the design scale, The Promenade at Mill Creek, the 40,000-sq.-ft. lifestyle addition to Millcreek Mall in Erie, Pa., is more of a niche-type project that adds core lifestyle tenants and amenities to a successful regional development.

Give customers what they want: If anyone is in the open-air driver’s seat, said Scott Hinson, senior development manager for Charlotte, N.C.-based Crosland, it is the customer. “The customer looks to these centers for conveniences, certainly, as they want to accomplish multiple errands in one stop,” said Hinson. “But running errands shouldn’t be at the expense of the experience. Customers want to enjoy the environment, even when it surrounds everyday errands.”

Crosland doesn’t limit its amenity areas, such as water features and plazas and landscaped green zones, to its large centers such as Providence Marketplace on 100 acres in Mt. Joliet (Nashville), Tenn. The company also injects customer-friendly amenities into projects as small as 85,000 sq. ft. “We will work diligently to incorporate common areas for the shoppers so that it’s not just the anchor tenants with some retail shops and a sidewalk and some benches,” said Hinson. “Creating place isn’t just for large centers.”

Blakeney Shopping Center in Charlotte is an amenity-rich Crosland development that puts its focus squarely where it belongs—on the customer, and on the retailer. The 63-acre site is anchored by Harris Teeter, Target and Marshalls, and features a central plaza and play areas for children.

“I think the future of open-air will see us focusing more and more on 50- to 70-acre sites which require more density, less parking and vertical construction,” said Hinson. “Therefore, these amenities will become all the more critical to the success of open-air centers going forward.”

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