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What works on retail villages

Shopping center owners and developers eager to find today's winning retail formula are zeroing in on the pedestrian lifestyle village as an increasingly profitable way to meet the needs of today's shoppers.

By attaching an outdoor “village” component to an enclosed shopping center, owners theoretically will increase destination appeal, generate more trips, extend the customers' stay and increase overall sales.

Judging by the popularity of the first of these hybrid concepts — Simon's Mall of Georgia and Westcor's FlatIron Crossing in Colorado — which have been open for two years, the formula works. Meanwhile, early figures at Taubman's Bay Street at International Plaza, which opened in Florida last fall, show similar success.

Other centers that will adopt the concept include The Jacobs Group's Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, N.C., opening this summer, and Fallen Timbers Mall by General Growth Properties, which is scheduled to open outside Toledo in 2004.

We've learned a lot from our experience on these projects about what works, and what doesn't. Here are our top 10 “do's and don'ts”:

  1. To encourage more and/or longer shopping trips, sell the village as a special experience. Give it an identity package distinct from the mall's, including logo, site and directional signage and directories. Clearly communicate its existence from within the mall. List tenants from the site perimeter all the way into the enclosed mall, and associate them with the village.

  2. A big part of the village appeal is its vibrant, people-friendly ambiance. Don't hold back on street furniture, fountains and other amenities that are conducive to casual browsing and socializing. The village should be a natural choice meeting up with friends.

  3. To help ensure extended hours, make sure the village radiates a distinct character for both day and nighttime activities. Include tenants that encourage activity from early morning, throughout the day and into the evening hours.

  4. Give people another reason to visit by making room for a variety of community-oriented entertainment possibilities — such as space for street entertainment, sponsored music events or outdoor movies.

  5. A strong first impression is critical. Otherwise, customers won't bother to explore. Create fun and inviting entry points that signal the excitement of the village beyond. Don't rely on the hidden promise of the remote common area to be enough to entice customers all the way in.

  6. Require tenants to present creative, exciting stores. Their storefronts are critical. After all, they are why customers are there. Pay special attention to tenants on the village perimeter since customers see them first. Require that entry buildings be addressed from all four sides. There is no such thing as a back door in the village.

  7. Insist that sit-down restaurants have outdoor seating adjacent to the common areas. The point is to turn up the activity level, thereby creating a buzz of energy that animates the entire village.

  8. Make it easy for people to visit the village by creating a fluid transition from the mall. Establish strong visual cues with lighting, signage, paving and distinctive architecture. Eliminate physical barriers.

  9. Depending on the market, the exact size of the village will change; it needs to be big enough to achieve critical mass, yet not so big that you compromise on tenants. We've seen successful villages as small as 80,000 sq. ft. and as large as 250,000 sq. ft.

    The tenant mix will make or break the village. Design with your targeted tenants in mind. Make sure everyone is on board with the strategy by requiring early participation of the leasing group and keep a constant information flow from them to the design team throughout the project.

  10. Make sure the village opens simultaneously with the mall, or you risk losing your audience. The village “formula” works best when it's not perceived as such. That's why our guidelines leave plenty of room for variation based on customer desires and market conditions. Our experience has shown that the most successful village projects are shaped by the time, place and people they're designed to serve.

J. Thomas Porter (top) is principal of Thompson Ventulett Stainback & Associates. Bob Tindall is principal and president of Callison Architecture. Callison and TVS are members of Insight Alliance, a strategic collaboration of firms that includes Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo.

TAGS: Development
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