Retail Insights

Shopping Centers: The New Downtowns

The retail real estate world has gone full circle. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of large regional shopping centers resulted in the decimation of downtown shopping districts as customers flocked to the climate-controlled comfort and convenience of enclosed malls.

Some 50 years later, we are now confronted with the retail apocalypse…and the vulnerability of those massive properties which displaced neighborhood shopping over half a century ago. And yet, the most creative mall owners have discovered that the way back to the consumer’s heart is to reinvent that very precious downtown retail dynamic which seemingly disappeared so many years ago.

One primary driver to mall transformation is the rapid contraction of retail footprint in many centers – even at the A and A+ level – plus the impossibility of replacing all of that empty space with apparel and accessories stores, when so many of those enterprises have either disappeared or are mere shadows of their former selves. But the main driver is actually the disappearing customer – especially those pesky millennials who would rather couch surf on their computers than set foot in a traditional mall.

In an ironic twist, what worked for boomers and their “great generation” forebearers – a highly localized shopping experience incorporating a full range of dining and entertainment options – characterizes the most exciting new retail environments. In a sense, these are really “non-shopping center” shopping centers: few if any walls, large open plazas and recreational spaces. Increasingly, these transformed centers have “live-in” customers housed in adjoining residential structures.

Here are four of the most ground-breaking new “downtown” shopping center projects. While these properties are in varying stages of development, all are poised to thoroughly transform a “trip to the mall” into a true neighborhood experience:

Miami WorldCenter: Futuristic Downtown Hub

Originally planned as an old-school, walled-in shopping center, Miami WorldCenter was reconceived by its developers Encore Capital Management and Taubman Centers as an open-air, urban retail dining and entertainment district… only on a futuristic scale. In addition to a full complement of retail, MWC will incorporate a range of high-rise residential structures (including both condo and rental units) and a 1,700-room hotel. There is a link to the new Miami Central light rail station and even a planned “flying taxi” Skyport to ferry residents and shoppers by helicopter to and from a choice of Miami area locales. The entire project is set for completion by 2021.

Monarch City: Reinventing an Exurban Space

Have you heard of Allen, TX? If you haven’t, you probably envision a tumbleweed-strewn desert town off the far reaches of the Dallas North Freeway. Well, a key tract within the city of Allen is on the threshold of redevelopment as Monarch City, a planned business + residential + retail community – virtually from the ground up. The original site had been earmarked for a regional shopping center. But its developers, Howard Hughes Corp. and JLL, saw the tide turning and astutely reconfigured the project as a new “city within a city.” Ultimately, Monarch City is putting Allen on the Dallas Metroplex map (along with Plano, Richardson and other tony local suburbs) as a dynamic live-shop-work environment. There will be a newly constituted “Main Street” flanked by commercial and residential high-rise structures featuring a broad retail, dining and entertainment mix – all built around a landscaped village green incorporating fountain shows and recreational facilities. All is being accomplished with the full support of the City of Allen in a truly collaborative private/public partnership.

The Veranda: Creating a Suburban Hub

The city of Concord, CA, is one of the largest and most diverse locales in the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco. However, until recently, Concord lacked an energized and engaging city center. That need is now being fulfilled by The Veranda, a 375,00 square-foot shopping and entertainment destination created by CenterCal Properties, a mixed-use developer specializing in creating “themed environments.” As with Monarch City, CenterCal collaborated with city officials to redevelop the former downtown “Diamond District” as a shopping, dining and entertainment center. The property is built around a lively park/activity area featuring an ongoing series of exercise, yoga and social programs, including a monthly “Cars & Coffee” sports car exhibition. With the addition of The Veranda, there is now a “there, there” in Concord . . . including a new small-format 365 by Whole Foods, fitting compactly into this human-scaled environment.

Plantation Walk: An Urban Experience for a Florida Suburb

For decades, the premier shopping destination in the South Florida community of Plantation was Fashion Mall, a walled-in retail fortress, which literally died in 2007. Its vacant corpse was eventually demolished, and its new replacement, Plantation Walk, will be everything Fashion Mall was not: a comfortable, street-scaled environment for living, dining, playing – and oh yes, shopping. Encore (that very same Encore that’s developing Miami World Center) is creating a 27-acre fully walkable community offering street-level retail, entertainment and dining options along with both office and residential structures. The feel will be “South Florida casual,” with palm-lined boulevards and florally adorned walkways. The full opening is scheduled late this year.

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