Retailers open to lifestyle centers

A new take on shopping centers is driven by small scale clusters and nearby residences

As a wave of new retail development is taking place across Clark County, coming with it is a growing trend in retail design and construction. Open-air formats, a mix of retailers and restaurants, pedestrian-friendly pathways and gathering spaces. Known as lifestyle centers, the alternative to enclosed malls is taking hold here.

The best existing local example is Bridgeport Village in Tigard, Ore. The more than 500,000-square-foot lifestyle center on 28.6 acres opened earlier this year with a mix of retail, restaurant, cinema and office space. Bridgeport Village developer Opus Northwest has similar plans for Vancouver’s Evergreen Airport site. The company has proposed plans to build 340,800 square feet of retail space, 91,000 square feet of office space, a 156-room hotel and 135 single-family homes on the 51.5 acre property. Construction on the project, Landing at Evergreen, could begin as early as next year.

Dave Cuthill, real estate director for Opus Northwest, said the first lifestyle centers started to creep onto the retail scene in the mid to late 90s.

"Given the success of the project in Tigard, (the lifestyle center concept) is really piquing people’s interest," said Eric Hovee, whose Vancouver consulting firm, E.D. Hovee & Co., was hired by Opus. "It is really the latest trend in retail. It is a way of attracting higher-end retailers into a community in more of an open-mall concept."

Still a small slice of the market

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, there are 132 lifestyle centers in the U.S., and 52 more are under construction. Existing centers total more than 50 million square feet, 60 percent of which have opened since 2000. ICSC defines a lifestyle center as at least 50,000 square feet of retail space, including national upscale specialty stores, with an open-air configuration and restaurants with nearby affluent residential neighborhoods.

There is 951 million square feet of enclosed mall space in the U.S., according to ICSC, and the indoor Westfield Vancouver mall has 883,000 square feet of retail space.

According to Cuthill, a typical mall is anywhere from 750,000 to 2 million square feet, but most lifestyle centers are in the 200,000- to 600,000-square-foot range. The smaller scale allows them to locate in infill sites closer to population centers, which is attractive for tenants, he said.

Attractive to developers

"For developers it is proving to be an attractive concept, in part because it is retailer driven," said Hovee. "They are looking for ways of expanding into markets that really fit their niche, but they don’t do it on their own. They need a developer to assemble the land and the multiple tenants. It’s an attractive way for them to go."

The Hazel Dell Towne Center represents the county’s first
true lifestyle center, said Deborah Ewing, vice president and retail specialist with Eric Fuller and Associates. More than a dozen retailers are occupying space as construction is still underway in the 425,000-square-foot development that sits on 42 acres.

The site is anchored by several large retailers, including Target, Office Depot, Petco and a proposed Bed, Bath and Beyond. Several smaller buildings throughout the site include national chain stores and locally-owned businesses.

"I think it’s very attractive from an aesthetic standpoint," said Ewing. "People like that Main Street, Village concept."

Frank Schmidt of Portland-based Tiland-Schmidt Architects said lifestyle centers are made more pedestrian friendly by scaling down the size of stores and including physical amenities such as benches and lights.

"It’s closer to the old-time, downtown feel," said Schmidt.

Storefronts play a role

The front elevation of lifestyle center stores employs unique design elements. Schmidt said lifestyle centers use a variety of exterior materials, textures, colors and heights.

While retailers may not alter the actual footprint of their stores, Cuthill said the storefront plays a larger role in open-air centers.

"You create your own separate store-front identity," he said.

More consideration is given to the functionality of the buildings when designing lifestyle centers, said Schmidt. Unlike stores in an enclosed mall, lifestyle centers allow each retailer their own loading docks and cargo entrances. How consumers approach stores and what they see as they enter is given greater consideration. Schmidt said it is important to have enough glass and display space at entrances.

"From an operational and functional standpoint we try to make sure we have everything covered," he said.

But one thing that can’t be covered is shoppers in Northwest rain, said Ewing, possibly giving Westfield Vancouver shopping center the advantage on wet days. But she doesn’t expect a little rain to stop the trend from continuing.

Something borrowed
Enclosed malls and strip mall redesigns integrate the look and feel of open-air retail centers

Some of the same design elements that go into creating the look of lifestyle centers are showing up in new and redeveloped malls and shopping centers.

Deborah Ewing, vice president and retail specialist with Eric Fuller and Associates, said lifestyle centers tend to attract retailers who are not already represented in the market and are not expected to run regional malls out of business any time soon. But malls have found ways to evolve as the lifestyle center trend continues to emerge.

Washington Square mall in Tigard, Ore., recently expanded its enclosed shopping center by about 100,000 square feet. But the storefronts were turned inside out, giving shoppers the option of entering each store from the curb or inside the mall. And each storefront has its own distinct design.

"We are always thinking about how we maintain our market share," said Ewing.

Ewing expects that as older shopping centers are redeveloped they will integrate similar design elements, and as new malls are built, they also will include some of the same features as lifestyle centers.

"I think that any new retail centers are going to have that main street, village feel," she said.

Longview’s Triangle Mall underwent a similar renovation. Open-air retailers have replaced the old, enclosed mall. A second phase of construction recently added nearly 80,000 square feet of retail space, including locations for national retailers.

Even small-scale centers, such as Padden Parkway Market Center, pictured here, or Garrison Square on Mill Plain Boulevard, "integrate different materials and color palettes to give it the feel" of a lifestyle center, said Ewing.

– Shane Cleveland

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