The unmistakable demise of the boxy enclosed malls that now litter American suburbs has as much to do with the success of new retail concepts as it does with the dearth of originality, amenity and life in the traditional centers. Dozens of 1980s designs have been leveled or adapted for other uses in the last two years, say building teams specializing in the retail sector. What remains are big-box "power centers" dominating the low-cost convenience segment, and a proliferation of quirky "lifestyle-oriented shopping experiences" that have overtaken the realm of high-end, leisurely consumerism.
Taking cues from amusement parks and new-urbanist precepts, adventure vacations and smart-growth initiatives, the hybrid retail concepts may feature indoor/outdoor shopping, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, themed entertainment, local flavor and lifestyle orientations. And the trend has legs, say many.
"This is the most significant real estate development trend in the last 50 years," says James J. Leonard, associate vice president with Baltimore's RTKL Associates Inc.
The driving force behind them, unsurprisingly, is a generation of bored empty-nesters, says David Scholl, senior vice president with Phoenix-based retail owner/developer Westcor. "A lot of this is tied to the baby-boom segment, people in their mid-40s to early 50s that are now buying second homes," he explains. "Their days of buying toys for the kids are over. Now they're looking for special experiences in life-in vacations, dining, entertainment-and shopping."
"Consumers are reacting to the anonymity of traditional shopping centers, which all look alike," says Stan Laegreid, principal with Callison Architecture, Seattle. "All our retail projects are migrating in this direction."
Another push comes from Wall Street, Scholl adds, as stores like the Gap struggle to find new reasons to expand to meet aggressive growth targets promised to early investors. Another motivation is the success of retailers in developing novel "concept stores," such as those by Columbus, Ohio-based The Limited Inc.
Dispensing with the anchors-and-corridors, enclosed-mall formula, Westcor and others-notably The Simon Property Group, Indianapolis; TrizecHahn Corp., Toronto; General Growth Properties, Chicago; and smaller owners such as The Peterson Cos., Fairfax, Va.-are exploring what is variously called "fusion retail," "retail resorts" or "hybrid malls."
"There are different models, but [the terms] translate into a blurring of the traditional shopping center into more of a village or Main Street shopping environment with outdoor components," Laegreid explains. "They're also often a more authentic part of their locale."
As an example, he points to Westcor's $260 million FlatIron Crossing, a new 1.5 million-sq.-ft. center between Denver and Boulder. The center responds as much to the outdoorsy, casual nature of its shoppers as it does to local outcroppings of the Flatiron Range, a geological feature. With long clerestory runs and glass overhead doors, the mall's metal-clad structures house decks, a fire pit and cozy furniture. A four-acre park, waterfall and pond are landscaped into the mall.
And Flatiron Crossing is not alone. Similar projects include The Simon Group's Mall of Georgia near Atlanta and the new Bowie Town Center in Maryland. TrizecHahn has brought the trend westward with Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles, Paseo Colorado in Pasadena, Calif., and Desert Passage in Las Vegas. General Growth's Stonebriar Centre near Dallas is another, as is Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, Md., being developed in part by The Peterson Cos.