As Yaromir Steiner sees it, there’s more to a modern shopping center expedition than parking, selecting from a myriad of stores, going into the store, finding an item, purchasing it, and leaving. You have to draw customers in and keep them there.
In an era of vast choice in retail delivery options - including the Internet, catalogs, big-box stores, and power centers, to name only a few - competition for consumer retail dollars is fierce. “Shopping centers are losing ground trying to be the delivery agents of many classes of goods, including ones they can never be cost effective at doing,” Steiner notes. “Centers have been threatened for some time and will continue to be so.”
No longer does simply measuring performance by sales per square foot, or annual revenues discounted by such factors as operating expenses and debt costs, reflect a successful shopping center, says Steiner, president at Columbus, OH-based Steiner + Associates Inc., a retail “town center” development firm. “Shopping centers must be evaluated, and, I believe, will succeed or fail based on one factor: the ability to generate a unique experience - one that appeals to our senses [and] that keeps people energized at the center.”
Steiner + Associates co-developed and currently manages Easton Town Center in Columbus. Open since 1999, the property is widely regarded as the benchmark for “new town center” development excellence, having earned the Intl. Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC’s) Most Innovative Design Award in 2000. Since opening, the $225-million center draws approximately 18 million visitors each year and has undergone development of a second phase, which was completed in 2001. A third phase is now under development and should be open by 2007.
Easton Town Center offers a mix of retail, leisure-time activities, office space, and residential and hospitality facilities. Three on-site hotels include Courtyard by Marriott, the Hilton Columbus, and the Residence Inn by Marriott. Steiner + Associates’ 3-million-square-foot portfolio also includes the recently opened Zona Rosa in Kansas City, MO, which reflects the “new town center” focus of all Steiner’s future developments. A second phase is already on the boards and will open in 2007.
The company has more than $550 million in projects under development, including The Greene in Dayton, OH, and Bayshore in Milwaukee, both slated to open in 2006, as well as The Peninsula in Hampton, VA. All are built around Steiner + Associates’ successful new town center concept. Another brand-new project still under discussion is tentatively being called Arlington Town Center. This proposed new town center in Arlington, TX, would be situated between the under-construction Dallas Cowboys stadium and Ameriquest Field. It would be Steiner + Associates’ largest endeavor to-date.
“We see our projects as a creation of an experience,” Steiner says. “We’re ‘experience’ builders, not ‘buildings’ builders. We spend lots of time thinking through the experience we try to deliver to our visitors, our customers. Once we identify what the experience is, we try to create an environment that delivers that experience.”
Steiner says delivery is multifaceted, relying on factors ranging from the adequacy of parking, public spaces, and the complex’s physical aesthetics to the tenant mix and adjacencies. Anchor stores for the new town centers go beyond traditional department stores, chain retailers, and multiplexes. Steiner + Associates seeks “traffic-generating anchors.” This new breed of anchors includes live theater, clubs, aquariums, themed restaurants, health clubs, and sporting arenas. While Easton Town Center does have Nordstrom and Macy’s, other anchors include a new Crate & Barrel, Barnes and Noble, an AMC multiplex, and a fitness center, as well as a number of unique restaurants.
“We have a significantly large amount of leisure-time tenants - comedy clubs, cabarets, bars, theaters,” Steiner says. “We feel that is an integral part of someone’s lifestyle. You can’t just deliver the merchandise. There’s also a social dimension.”
Tenants at the centers are clustered, with similar tenants close to one another. In the past, most shopping centers would disperse like tenants, putting shoe stores at different ends of the complex. Steiner says this allows shoppers to browse for items (such as shoes) in a more logical format rather than having to go all over the complex to find what they need. “We make things coherent,” he says. “We take very deliberate steps to make sure there is a consistency to the experience.”
Robin Suttell (email@example.com), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.