Pad locations are a no-brainer, right? Not necessarily.
Instead of flinging your pads to the outer reaches of the parking lots, consider grouping them around a plaza, or — even more radically — pulling them closer to the center itself to create a people-driven community.
It's a lost opportunity to stick with the status quo and fling these energy possibilities to the outer reaches. Yes, yes, the advantage is utter visibility for the pad, which, as we all know, can be a monetary windfall where a ground lease is concerned. Most of you owner/developers are probably saying, “Listen Mark, if it is not broken don't fix it.” But this old tried-and-true method of retailing never really worked that well in the first place.
Perhaps the practice evolved from the fact that the extremities of the parking lot are usually left-over land, where nobody parks anyway. At one time, putting something on it was better than doing nothing. So if that is all you are looking for, then yes, putting a pad there is a better solution because it is being wasted. But you could do so much more considering the effort it takes to attract and obtain the pad tenant — usually a restaurant — to come to the site in the first place. With the current trend of lifestyle-oriented, place-making retail centers, and with the new generation of shoppers who want their free time to count for something, the energy for these pad buildings has to be harnessed if the goal is to revitalize thousands of lackluster centers across the United States.
The pad tenants, especially the restaurants, are in many cases the most dynamic tenants in a center. The human need for food goes without saying. The energy these tenants create is left to dissipate out in the parking fields — what a waste. If grouped together, the pads can be attached to the main center by trellises, covered arcades or tree-lined sidewalks with graphics. (See illustration below.) Or this collection of pads can even float in the parking lot. (See illustration on page 224.) The common areas of two, three or four intermingling outdoor dining plazas together can create enough synergy to warrant outdoor fireplaces, water features, trellises and landscaping. You have now created a hub out of what would have been a number of isolated situations. The buzz can create a buzz to help revitalize the leasing of the center, whatever the situation may be.
Identity, which is a big concern for these restaurant pads, can be achieved by proper location and by creating distinct parking fields allocated for the individual restaurants. Loading can be situated off these parking fields and hidden behind landscaped walls. Remember, only one façade from each pad needs to be manipulated to work with the common dining plaza. Also, water retention problems can be turned into shallow lakes upon which pads can be situated. On a renovation project, options other then isolating the pads in the parking fields exist. You can always tag these outdoor dining plazas made up of grouped pads onto the original arcaded center to provide a destination or energy-activator.
This leads to the even more radical and even more effective way to activate a strip, power center or mall. An owner/developer with proper vision can create a lifestyle energy level in an intelligent meaningful way. So many times I have been asked to revitalize a project where the previous designer had added a bevy of kitschy, Disney-esque sidewalk tricks, and yet the owner wondered why no real improvement in sales had occurred. News Flash: Single loaded sidewalks facing parking lots have no energy containment and aren't even trying to be a street. If you move your pads in on the outdoor arcade of the existing center and use proper placement, outdoor rooms connecting the street experience can legitimately be created. Visibility — a huge issue — can be maintained through fragments, trellises, etc., and the outdoor dining experience activate people to shop. Synergy — a word we have all had rammed down our throats for the past 15 years — can now truly be achieved fairly painlessly.
Enough of my preaching; my final thought is that all the energy that intelligent leasing can muster is now in one dynamic pedestrian connected location. Synergy is created. With proper tenant placement, graphics and lighting, a lifestyle critical mass can be achieved no matter how small the market or the center.
MARK L. TWEED, AIA
President, founding partner and partner in charge of design at architects HTH Group LLP.