Too hip to be caught dead in a mall, yet in need of a one-stop shopping venue where clothes or kitchenware can be purchased, dry cleaning can be picked up, and a well-prepared meal can be enjoyed in a comfortable atmosphere? Try a new "shopping experience."
In the search for the next regional retail mall attraction that captures the lifestyle and imagination of today's consumer, developers and designers are combining the enclosed mall with the open-air shopping center to create a mall that is everything to everyone.
The term for this retail metamorphosis, which is taking place largely in the southern and western United States, is the "hybrid center." It consists of a traditional enclosed mall with attached outdoor retail and entertainment streetscapes that are reflective of the surrounding landscape and local community within which it exists.
Two primary examples are FlatIron Crossing in Broomfield, Colo., a community between Boulder and Denver at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and the Mall of Georgia near Buford, Ga., 40 miles northeast of Atlanta. Constructed by Roche Constructors Inc. of Greeley, Colo., and completed in August 2000, FlatIron Crossing is one of the latest and most compelling examples of the hybrid center. The Mall of Georgia, built by Hardin Construction Co. of Atlanta and opened in August 1999, ushered in the concept.
Hybrid centers like FlatIron Crossing are no longer malls but "shopping experiences," according to Wally Chester, executive vice president of Westcor Partners, the project's Phoenix-based developer.
The experience to which Chester refers is akin to vacationing at home. "People are no longer happy with shopping for shopping's sake," he says. "Consumers have so many options available that you need to package their experience with a sense of being on a holiday."
Knowing the customer's lifestyle is of paramount importance in hybrid center development. In the case of FlatIron Crossing, the area is inhabited by young, well-educated, high-tech professionals who value the outdoor lifestyle.
Sit-down restaurants are attractions of the FlatIron Crossing village streetscape. Stone masonry, steel and wood lend a hand-crafted appearance to the center’s interior. Comfortable seating in out-of-the-way places is found throughout.
According to Robert Tindall, president of Seattle-based Callison Architecture Inc., designers of FlatIron Crossing, consumers are finding traditional enclosed malls lacking an identity. "People want something unique to their location and community," he says.
A traditional enclosed mall was not the solution for FlatIron Crossing, says Tindall. Though weather sometimes keeps residents indoors, the area boasts sunshine more than 300 days a year, making it well-suited for an outdoor center. But the project's fast-track schedule, and the fact that some of its major tenants liked the mall setting, led to a more typical grouping of tenants rather than an outdoor center.
The result is a 1.5 million-sq.-ft. shopping center that blurs the line between indoor and outdoor shopping experiences. To break down the barrier between the enclosed center, which is anchored by four department stores, and the outdoor streetscape, Callison installed industrial-type, sectional roll-up doors at entrances.
The industrial appeal of these doors complements the center's hand-crafted appearance, which incorporates natural materials such as steel and wood, along with natural light.
The enclosed portion of the center transitions into a 240,000 sq.-ft., single-level "village" streetscape designed for shopping and strolling. Paths, fountains and plantings link a streetscape that is reminiscent of distinctive Colorado shopping districts. It is anchored by a movie theater complex and features lifestyle retailers such as home furnishing stores, galleries, tabletop stores and specialty fashion stores.
The hybrid concept also includes bringing into the center big-box retailers, such as a book and music superstore, and sit-down restaurants that are typically outparceled on the periphery of a development to provide one-stop shopping.
More and better restaurants are finding homes in the streetscape. "By clustering restaurants on a shared courtyard, they are finding that they do better when they have good food-choice neighbors," says Tindall.
While the center houses a police substation and a mail and packaging center, efforts to attract more convenience shops and services such as a dry cleaners have been unsuccessful. "These villages have evolved into food, entertainment and lifestyle centers," says Chester.
The center's ties to the community are rooted in its environment. Integrated park areas play a major role in the streetscape and reflect the region's landscape. Two separate areas of green space accessible from the center's main entrances connect to a local trail system and landscapes that include streams and fountains.
The Mall of Georgia, a component of the larger Mill Creek residential development, was the first to combine a 1.7 million-sq.-ft. regional mall with a 250,000 sq.-ft. "main street" retail and entertainment village.
In addition to destination shopping and entertainment, the mall, which was developed by Ben Carter Properties of Atlanta in conjunction with Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, provides something that previously was missing in Buford: a downtown. "The mall contains a large outdoor entertainment village, which recalls the turn-of-the-century villages of Georgia," says J. Thomas Porter, senior principal of Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates (TVS) of Atlanta, the project's architect. "There really isn't a true downtown feel to Buford."
The Mall of Georgia was the first of the hybrid malls to combine indoor and outdoor retail centers in a single footprint. A turn-of-the-century village streetscape features restaurants and big-box retail typically found in outparcels.
The village theme follows two story lines, according to Porter. "The outside of the village uses materials in a way that recalls turn-of-the-century design. There is a village green and a bandshell that make it a real village and not just a Disney copy. The interior reflects the five topographical regions of the Peach State: from the coastal areas to the northern mountains."
Once considered a location for a restaurant or other use, the open space of the village green has become the main gathering place in this pseudo downtown. But perhaps the most popular attraction is what Porter calls the green's "interactive fountain."
The developer sought mall tenants with a community appeal: a multiscreen movie theater, restaurants and lifestyle tenants such as hardware and pottery stores. All tenants were urged to follow architectural guidelines as much as possible in their store designs.
Whether they are called malls or shopping experiences, regional retail developments like FlatIron Crossing and the Mall of Georgia are providing the setting for business and social interaction that once was offered by the traditional town square. Through greater attention to design as a reflection of community lifestyle, these new indoor/outdoor developments are beginning to resemble that traditional community feature.