Form and Function

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The geometry of community centers hasn’t changed much—the standard U- and L-shapes and the traditional straight lines still apply. But any hard and fast rules about design and tenanting may require some recalculation.

Bending more toward community gathering places than expanded goods-and-services providers, some of today’s community centers are incorporating lifestyle-like amenities. “The lines between neighborhood centers and community shopping centers have blurred a bit,” said real estate consultant Jon Eisen, managing principal of StreetSense, Bethesda, Md. “Both formats offer goods and services, but a community center will feature more and bigger.” Harkening back to a time when J.C. Penney and Sears occupied anchor positions in the larger community centers, some current community centers are attracting department stores as tenants. And the co-tenants are increasingly of the lifestyle variety.

ARedevelopment in Rocky River

What wasn’t particularly customer-friendly now is. Following a major overhaul by developer Madison Marquette, Beachcliff Market Square in Rocky River, Ohio (on the west side of Cleveland), was transformed from an enclosed and dying 51,567-sq.-ft. two-level center into a vibrant, 97,000- sq.-ft. community center that sports a decidedly lifestyle look and feel. As part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan, 27,000 sq. ft. of the formerly non-anchored and undersized center was razed and an additional 65,000 sq. ft. of new gross leasable area was added back to the project in a customer- friendly streetscape design. A new underground garage adds much needed parking and a lineup of lifestyle tenants— augmenting the existing service-oriented retailers—better suits the well-heeled, upscale neighborhood that continually has been voted Cleveland’s top suburb.

Beachcliff Market Square

Location: Rocky River, Ohio (Cleveland)Developer: Madison MarquetteNew tenants: Ann Taylor Loft, Chico’s, Joseph A. Bank, White House/Black Market, Aveda InstituteSize: 97,000 sq. ft.Status: Redevelopment began in May 2005, and construction was completed in November 2006.Project highlight: A new 133-space underground garage added necessary and convenient parking, and the new streetscape-lifestyle format has helped transform a lifeless center into a flourishing community destination.

“Community centers that feature an Ann Taylor Loft and a Joseph A. Bank and a Chico’s, married with three restaurants and a lineup of neighborhood goods and services, are attracting a broader mix of audience,” said Eisen. Goods and services will frequently include a cell-phone store, a gym, a drug store and the requisite grocer. Eisen cited a couple of community-center examples that have taken the format to another dimension.

“Caruso’s The Commons at Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley has a lifestyle component, public open spaces and amenities to attract people and keep them there for longer periods of time,” he said. The Commons at Calabasas features the expected community-center tenants: Ralphs Grocery Store is joined by Rite Aid and a dry cleaner. But the lineup also includes Williams-Sonoma, Chico’s, Barnes & Noble and a number of restaurants, “again, to attract a wider customer base,” said Eisen. Another center, this one across the country in Bethesda, Md., and developed by Federal Realty, does as much, but on a smaller scale.

Reinventing Richmond’s The Village Shopping Center

When a high-end community center doesn’t look high-end, a redevelopment is in order. That’s precisely what Regency Centers has partially completed for The Village Shopping Center on the west end of Richmond, Va. A newly completed phase-one redevelopment of the space includes exterior facade renovations, exterior insulated finish systems, under-canopy renovations, a new lighting and sound system, a new signage package and, most notably, a renovated breezeway that now features a European-themed design with new porcelain tile, pilasters with wrought-iron lighting, ceiling fans, skylights, benches and extensive topiary. “The renovation helped us to attract new tenants to the center, like Salon Del Sol, City Limit, Haru Sushi and Atlantic Embroidery,” said Regency Centers property manager Luke Puccinelli. Just as important, the redevelopment revamped the curb appeal for the entire community center, so that it better defines and represents the neighborhood it serves.

The Village Shopping Center

Location: Richmond, Va.Developer: Regency CentersMajor tenants: Ukrops and CVS/pharmacy are anchors; co-tenants include Moe’s Southwest Grill, Franklin Federal Savings and Loan, and Starbucks.Size: 111,177 sq. ft.Status: Phase one of the redevelopment is complete; phase two launches early 2007.Project highlight: The phase one highlight is the renovation of the breezeway, transforming a dreary hallway into an airy gathering space.

“While The Commons at Calabasas is about 200,000 sq. ft., Wildwood is less than half the size but, because of the demographics that surround it, has upscaled its offerings to appeal to its customers.” Wildwood is anchored by boutique grocer Balducci’s and CVS/pharmacy, and features a salon, optician, dry cleaner, barber and three banks in 86,000 sq. ft. of space.

Although community centers have been and continue to be part of a frontline real estate strategy for retail service categories, the format clearly is emerging as a potentially viable off-mall position for lifestyle tenants. And as centers such as The Commons at Calabasas and Wildwood continue to combine aesthetic gentrification with public open spaces, dining options and lifestyle tenants, goods-and-services tenants won’t be limited to standard fare when evaluating their real estate options. However, Eisen tempers his enthusiasm for the emerging bent toward bells and whistles.

“Turning a community center into a mini Main Street isn’t always the answer,” he said. “It’s too easy for some to take any strip center and—by having all the shops face inward—call it a Main Street or a town center.” Community centers that don’t factor in customer convenience, that throw out the fundamental rules and, instead, create confusing spaces with shops facing inward and the parking outboard, Eisen said, don’t work.

“The overriding purpose of a community center is to adequately and conveniently service the community,” he said. “The trends that have inspired Main Streets and town centers—better architecture, better public open space, more public amenities—can also be applied to community centers. But it has to make sense.”