Let Us Entertain You

The great open-air centers have mastered the fine art of entertaining customers and bringing them back for more

The essence of Southern California, the 45-year-old Fashion Island has evolved successfully by staying in touch with the newest and best retail, restaurant and entertainment ideas.

As a category of shopping center, open-air centers have been evolving ever since the days they were called lifestyle centers. New categories of tenants have evolved, along with new ways of creating compelling tenant mixes and environments. We asked three open-air owners to tell us about current and possible future directions that evolution may take. 

The companies are San Diego-based American Assets Trust; Irvine Co. Retail Properties in Irvine, Calif.; and Columbus, Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust. Here’s what they had to say.


American Assets Trust Remembers the Alamo

American Assets Trust acquires, develops and manages retail, office and residential properties primarily on the West Coast, in Texas and in Hawaii. Its retail portfolio consists of 12 shopping centers spanning 3.1 million sq. ft. The company’s open-air properties include four centers, totaling about 1.9 million sq. ft. Each has its own unique character. Consider San Antonio’s Alamo Quarry Market, for instance.

“Alamo Quarry Market starts in the morning and continues into the evening,” said John Chamberlain, president and CEO of American Assets Trust. “It entertains while satisfying daily necessities.”

Not far from the historical Alamo, Alamo Quarry Market can entertain with a photograph. Check out the accompanying photo with five white smokestacks. The 589,479-sq.-ft. center stands on the site of the old Alamo Cement Company. The center’s design incorporates the cement company’s original smokestacks, rock crusher building and clinker building.

The unique environment attracts retailers, restaurants and entertainment that fill the center with people.

“We have the area’s dominant theater,” said Chris Sullivan, VP retail leasing with the company. “When you have the top theater, restaurants follow, and restaurants are entertainment.”

The development boasts 19 eateries, including high-end, sit-down restaurants such as Piatti Italian Ristorante, a growing chain with nine locations; Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar; California Pizza Kitchen; and a mix of other well-known names.

Alamo Quarry Market is also home to a Whole Foods Market, with its interactive offerings such as cooking and nutrition classes and other events.

Restoration Hardware, Whole Earth Provision Co., Pottery Barn, Lucchese Boot Co. and Banana Republic fill out the list of more than 60 retailers.


Glimcher Evolves into Mixed-Use

Glimcher Realty Trust owns material interests in and manages a portfolio of 29 retail centers spanning about 19.2 million sq. ft. About one-quarter of the properties are open air. Some are open-air retail in mixed-use developments.

“We would like to evolve to mixed-use,” said Michael Glimcher, the company’s CEO and chairman of the board. “We think more uses give people more reasons to come to the property.”

Scottsdale Quarter in Scottsdale, Ariz., is an example of Glimcher’s mixed-use concept. Currently at 600,000 sq. ft., it has 400,000 sq. ft. of retail. The project blends retail, restaurants, entertainment and office space. Apartment buildings are under construction now. “We try to emulate cities with our properties,” Glimcher said. “Here we have a great outdoor fountain and 152 date palm trees. There are 10 restaurants, service uses, an Apple Store and Nike. It has all the elements we love.”

Glimcher particularly likes the Restoration Hardware Gallery at Scottsdale Quarter. It is the 3-year-old showroom prototype that rolled out in Houston in 2011. “When we made the deal, there were zero open,” he said. “Ours is the second or third of its kind. They are one of the most exciting retailers out there.”

It is a 20,000-sq.-ft. house with a roof deck. The rooms are built out. If you like the room, you buy it — or part of it.

What does Glimcher foresee in the future for open-air centers? “I think the lines are beginning to blur,” he said. “I can see an indoor mall connected to an outdoor center.”


The All-Open-Air Irvine Co.Retail Properties

Irvine, Calif.-based Irvine Co. Retail Properties maintains a portfolio of 39 centers, which includes three large regional centers and 36 neighborhood and community centers. Every one of them is open air.

“Part of the excitement of open-air retail is the continuing evolution,” said Ken Gillett, senior VP operations with Irvine Co. Retail Properties.

For instance, a new restaurant concept called Urban Plates recently opened at the 334,000-sq.-ft. Crossroads community center in Irvine. It is a farm-to-plate restaurant. The food comes from local farms and producers, and chefs prepare the plates right in front of the customer.

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the super-regional Fashion Island in Newport Beach spans 1.3 million sq. ft. “Fashion Island opened in 1967 and has evolved constantly,” Gillett said. “Last year, we added a Whole Foods Market. Specialty grocers are becoming part of the entertainment mix in open-air centers.”

Whole Foods’ entertainment value comes from the classes and events, locally brewed craft beers, the restaurant — Back Bay Tavern — and, of course, its grocery offerings.

“Food creates return visits in our centers,” Gillett continued.

Of course, it isn’t just food. It’s the combination of food, shops, entertainment and design.

“Design is a matter of paying attention to large and small details,” Gillett said. “Landscaping helps create great public spaces. So do comfortable furniture, water features, music and even the Wi-Fi. People expect Wi-Fi today — and it has to be good Wi-Fi.”

Fashion Island has already taken the next step in entertainment by bringing in Island Cinema, which offers state-of-the-art technology, luxurious seating, and, of course, dinner and wine.

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