Blending multiple components in a single development isn’t a new idea. In fact, the Urban Land Institute first turned the phrase “mixed use” some 30 years ago, defining it as three or more significant revenue-producing uses in a single project.
As the format has caught fire among shopping center developers — mostly as a way to showcase retail and capture on-premise consumers — a plethora of successful mixed-use projects have opened to rave reviews. The most common component combinations have been retail-office-hotel or retail-office-residential, but how the combos are blended is not as formulaic. Some projects feature Main Street layouts with ground-floor retail and second-story office, augmented by a lineup of sit-down restaurants and other entertainment uses. Others add freestanding department stores to the mix, as well as entertainment venues such as art galleries and cinemas, and civic or educational uses along with public transit hubs.
Green space and pedestrian walkways, with lots of outdoor amenities, are a matter of course in most all mixed-use projects, as are sustainable building and maintenance practices. Showcased in all of them is retail.
Chain Store Age talked with two developers of mixed-use projects about the various formulas for success and highlighted developments that utilize the format to retail’s best advantage.
Design- and Amenity-Rich: Westchester’s Ridge Hill opened in 2011 in Yonkers, N.Y., to big crowds and lots of press. And it’s no wonder. The 1.3 million-sq.-ft. project, developed by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Forest City Ratner Cos. (a subsidiary of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises), made headlines with a stunning retail lineup that includes Lord & Taylor’s first new full-line store in 10 years, Whole Foods Market and National Amusements’ Cinema de Lux. >
The setting garnered news as well. The open-air project is built like a city-in-a-city, rich with amenities and architectural style.
“Design and amenities are more important now than ever before because it’s how you can differentiate one project from another,” said Kathryn Welch, senior VP and director of retail for Forest City Ratner. “People want to visit a place that will offer them an experience, and that’s what they get at Westchester’s Ridge Hill.”
Sculptural elements add color to the town square, bells and fountains add outside interest, and a European plaza serves as a gathering place for shoppers. “Our time is more limited than ever before, so we all tend to go to places that offer us the most opportunities to experience and explore,” Welch said. Westchester’s Ridge Hill features office, residential, entertainment, dining and a deep retail lineup for a complete mixed-use offering.
Brass Tacks: Underneath the design and amenities of a top-tier mixed-use destination are the functional challenges that must be dealt with to make the project truly work — not the least of which is parking.
“Ensuring there is enough parking and that it is placed correctly are critical,” said John Hutchens, asset manager for Casto, Sarasota, Fla., the developer of the popular Randhurst Village mixed-use project near Chicago. In order for the retailers to thrive alongside the office and entertainment players, a developer must balance the uses and consider the varying parking needs.
Signage is no small matter either. “The anchor tenant will often face outward to the street with maximum signage visibility, but shoppers have to find their way back to the Main Street tenants,” Hutchens said. “That’s a huge consideration when you’re developing a mixed-use project — that you consider all your tenants when placing signage so that everyone benefits.”
Wayfinding isn’t just about physical signage, however. Casto has embarked on a mission to make sure that Google Maps is set up to accurately direct shoppers to the stores. “Wayfinding also means paying attention to the Internet,” Hutchens said. “It’s about getting down to brass tacks.”
Casto is a big believer in brass-tacks thinking when it comes to planning its projects. Randhurst Village is a product of that kind of thinking. The former mall maintained its original anchors Carson Pirie Scott and Bed Bath & Beyond, and Casto kept the tenants open during the demolition that turned the enclosed mall inside out. “That was a challenge,” he said. “But we allowed those stores to set the precedent for how we designed that part of the project.”