Rekindling Main Street

“There are two types of shopping,” explained Nick Wibbenmeyer, senior manager of investments for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Regency Centers, “shopping for necessities and shopping for entertainment. Town centers are designed mainly for the needs of the latter.”

The immense popularity and continuing proliferation of Main Street and town-center developments prove that, much like moviegoers, consumers crave entertainment. And they enjoy the sense of discovery.

“We like to make exploring the center an adventure,” said Chuck Boysen, director of marketing and lease management for Peoria, Ill.-based Cullinan Properties. “Shoppers are looking for a comfortable, friendly, walkable area that reminds them of the Main Streets of their pasts.” The wide sidewalks, store-front parking, architecture and open spaces that characterize contemporary Main Street developments provide consumers with an escape from daily life along an avenue of imagination.

As with the Main Street component, town-center developments place customers into a “historical recreation of the original downtowns,” said Peter Bollinger, general partner for Sacramento-based Inter-Cal Real Estate Corp.

Inter-Cal is creating its own thoroughfare through time with The Fountains lifestyle project, in Roseville, Calif. The development’s 330,000 sq. ft. of retail space is set off by well-manicured open spaces for the public to gather, and long, pedestrian-friendly boulevards lined with upscale retailers, restaurants and offices. Five large water features, murals and sculptures adorn The Fountains’ grounds. While The Fountains is designed to evoke memories of days past, the complex’s tenant mix is a who’s who of contemporary retail, including Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, Jos. A. Bank, anchors Whole Foods and Orvis, Anthropologie, and local retail attractions such as Bellybou and Le Petit Chateau.

Just as significant as its myriad of retail offerings is that The Fountains, by offering a Main Street concept and a mix of uses that includes retail and office, will be the first of its kind for Roseville, as well as for the five-county area that includes Sacramento. Inter-Cal broke ground on The Fountains last spring, with completion slated for spring 2008.

Main Street and town-center projects do not merely provide entertainment for consumers and a forum for retailers; they are also beneficial to their respective communities. Town centers provide large, well-maintained, public gathering spaces on valuable private land. The high sales of tenants contribute to town treasuries. According to Regency Center’s Wibbenmeyer, the shopping and dining that these properties provide draw residents, and their dollars, from neighboring communities. And, of course, Main Streets create jobs. The Shops on Main, Regency Centers’ town-center development in Schererville, Ind., will provide an estimated 1,112 construction jobs and 1,254 retail positions.

Construction on the Shops on Main will begin this fall. When completed in fall 2008, the development will consist of 350,000 sq. ft. of upscale retailers and restaurants. Cobblestone crosswalks, brick-faced storefronts, tree-lined avenues, stylish light posts and large open areas complete the development’s town-center aesthetics.

Wibbenmeyer stressed the importance of open spaces to the Main Street concept, not only for cosmetic purposes, but also to create “a social epicenter for the shopping center.” He expects The Shops to be more than a mere shopping center; it is intended to be a destination where consumers spend their leisure time. “The gathering area is essential. It’s important to build a feature people will gather around.”

According to Kevin Polston, senior VP and director of Avenue projects for Atlanta-based Cousins Properties, “65% to 80% of the people gathering in our lifestyle centers are women.” Polston added, “The open-air format generally attracts an older demographic than a mall.” Most developers agree that the primary target demographic of many town-center developments is a fairly affluent woman around 35 years of age—significant, because, according to Polston, “The first point to designing a Main Street and finding the correct tenant mix is to identify the market opportunity.”

Cousins Properties’ take on Main Street is The Avenue Forsyth located in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. The development will house tenants with an unshakable focus on the format’s core consumer—such as Ann Taylor Loft, Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, J. Jill and Talbots. To create universal appeal, however, The Avenue will also feature an AMC Movie Theater, Barnes & Noble, American Eagle, several upscale restaurants, a number of mini anchors, including Circuit City and DSW, and 70,000 sq. ft. of office space. Mid-20th-century themed architecture, wide sidewalks, immaculate landscaping and open spaces will provide the nostalgic qualities on which these styles of projects thrive. Phase 1 of the 108-acre Avenue Forsyth, consisting of 527,000 sq. ft., is set to open in April 2008.

In order to reap the full benefits that a Main Street or town-center design provides, development obstacles may have to be overcome. The larger these developments become, the harder it is to maintain the illusion of an intimate Main Street setting.

“Creating strategies that address how pedestrians and vehicles coexist without destroying the ambience can be a major challenge,” said Cousins’ Polston.

Another hurdle developers face as they jump into Main Street projects is “creating a nucleus of tenants that are unique and attract your desired demographic,” added Inter-Cal’s Bollinger. A development’s superior ambience becomes even more powerful when the tenants are as exciting as the project’s design and amenities.

No matter how high the hurdles may be, clearly Main Streets and town centers are well worth the extra effort—not only for the developers and retail tenants, but also for the customer. “People naturally gravitate toward more comfortable retail surroundings that reflect their lifestyles,” said Boysen of Cullinan Properties. The company’s new town-center project, Southpointe Town Center in the Pittsburgh suburb of Canonsburg, Pa., is designed toward comfort, lifestyle and, of course, entertainment.

When completed in the summer of 2009, Southpointe Town Center will feature 500,000 sq. ft. of upscale retail, restaurants and entertainment venues. The beautifully designed and lushly landscaped center of the project will offer a natural invitation to the surrounding Southpointe work force, underscored by the fact that the development will serve as a premier complement to the residential and office developments in the South Hills region of Washington County, Pa. Tourists who visit southwestern Pennsylvania from a wide radius will also enjoy the tree-lined avenues, stylish architecture, green open spaces and, of course, the unique blend of upscale retail and a variety of dining options—all of which play a part in the lifestyle center’s appeal and character.

Just because today’s character-rich, nostalgia-injected Main Street and town-center developments play up the past doesn’t mean the designs, the amenities or the merchandising is dated. Main Street projects are perhaps the freshest of today’s shopping center formats, and consumers clearly are responding to this very unique blend of art and science. Mastering the concoction whose ingredients include tenant mix, layout, architecture and aesthetics equates to creating a successful Main Street or town-center development.

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