March 20, 2017
By Dennis Kaiser
Six retail leaders shared the keys to creating a retail environment that remains vibrant and appealing around the clock at Connect Retail West. The panel was entitled, “24-Hour Cities: Transforming Neighborhoods & Changing Retail.”
The foundation to thriving new areas are what Federal Realty’s Jeff Kreshek called “building blocks” that come together in a “methodical, contrived process.” In the case of L.A., that involved zoning changes enacted to encourage adaptive reuse development, and “meeting the daily needs and convenience” requirements of residents, Kreshek noted. This must happen before top-line retailers such as Apple, Whole Foods or others are interested in an area.
It also requires a few early adopters taking a chance on an often unproven market. The “catalytic” moments in Downtown L.A. (DTLA), according to Avison Young’s Derrick Moore, included the development of Staples Center, the emergence of L.A. Live, and the arrival of a Ralphs grocery store.
DTLA had been without a grocery store for 80 years, said Moore, who believes there are still 20 years of run left for DTLA as a result of the massive residential growth. To get the resurgence launched required a public/private team effort, as well as a bit of “twisting, kicking and dragging people down to see,” he said. Ultimately, it provided a “significant spark in a desolate area.”
Infusing new life into a market also serves as a trigger to encourage others to join the mix, said SoulCycle’s Alan Cooke. The “experiential retailer” played a role in a NY neighborhood “breaking out of a mold” at its studio on 83rd Street. The location on the Upper East Side has proven “pretty inspirational,” since SoulCycle’s arrival helped “completely transform a corner,” said Cooke.
SoulCycle’s approach creates dynamic places that “adapt to a submarket’s customers.” By understanding the customer better, SoulCycle is able to curate studio environments that appeal to them. One example of activating studios longer is a concept called Soul Late, in which a studio stays open late for workout events, followed by cocktails, which serve somewhat as a nightclub experience.
The Bloc’s Kathleen Miller said one of the intriguing retail concepts she’s spotted recently are “pop-up locations in DTLA’s Arts District,” which have emerged to enliven spaces. “Those are straight out of Austin,” she said.
Consumers seek out places that are fun and engaging, notes Kreshek, who said the biggest threat to the retail sector is “boredom and indifference. For 24-hour cities to work they must be compelling on every level,” he said. It is “hard to execute” in urban environments, though it is “most important to get the urban edge to look right.”
“Flexibility is key,” said Browman Development Co.’s Scott Bohrer. “You need to be able to have options built into future development for non-traditional uses later.”
Infill retail redevelopment projects can also involve changing perceptions and balancing expectations. That’s particularly acute when developing in areas of a city that aren’t highly affluent, popular or on the radar yet. Primestor’s Alan Araki said, “Part of the challenge is financing,” since “the income levels are not as high” in areas the company finds appealing to develop, “yet the cost is the same to build” projects. “Those deals are challenging, so public/private partnerships are key” to bringing them to fruition.
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