The New “Third Place”

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\"\"1. Trendy Food-Driven Centers

Out of adversity comes opportunity. Some of the most forward-thinking developers in the beleaguered shopping center sector have hit upon an entirely new formula—one that replicates the Starbucks model as the “third place.” That would be the precious zone between home and work, a sanctuary of sorts where solace and a sense of peacefulness can be obtained for the price of a cup of coffee.

Or, in the case of shopping centers, a comfortably designed, aesthetically pleasing and spiritually enhancing environment for recharging over designer cocktails and chef-engineered entrées, performing yoga poses in a landscaped courtyard, or gathering before an outdoor movie screen after dark.

Notice…no reference to shopping here. Yes, there are stores…and yes, retail is still a key component of the tenant mix. But retail itself is not the point, and from an experience point of view, it is almost incidental to the overall mall environment.

So perhaps these new entities are not really “shopping centers” at all, but rather “living centers.” In a sense, they provide a convenient assemblage of the lifestyle and entertainment options which we all enjoy in today’s pressure-cooker world … and all in a comfortable communal setting. Plus, we just might hit a few shopping destinations while we’re there.

Like a legion of new “believers,” these properties are emerging in divergent locales around the world. In each case there is a focal point—whether it be high-end dining, luxurious décor, or a cohesive self-contained community with both living and working components. Here are examples of three major categories of “living centers”—each with its own distinct personality and point of view:

2. Funky Neighborhood Setting

Who says millennials don’t like to visit malls? A few of the savviest developers have learned how to provide the ideal mix of experience, food and, yes, retail…all in a comfortable laid-back setting that lends itself to long conversations and just plain hanging out.

Westfield Village Topanga, Canoga Park, CA—Hipster Vibe

Located adjacent to Westfield’s sprawling Topanga mall in suburban LA, “The Village” is conceived as a chill hang-out for millennials (and others) with a broad selection of trendy eateries and fitness options. In addition, the Village features an ongoing schedule of art and music events in coordination with local artists and UCLA’s School of the Arts, creating a multi-level sensory experience.

3. Building a Community

The newest breed of “living centers” provide their clientele with the opportunity to actually live there. In addition to a full complement of dining and shopping options, these mixed-use properties incorporate residential apartments, park-like recreational settings and outdoor entertainment venues—in essence, fully self-supporting communities. They are frequently located at or near key transit hubs and appeal to a youthful, car-phobic demographic which prefers all of its lifestyle options in one setting.

Harwood District, Dallas (Harwood International)—Live, Work, Play, Travel

Originating in 1984 with the opening of the Rolex Building in uptown Dallas, Harwood has developed into a fully evolved live-work-dine-shop community with park-like grounds, garden landscapes and an invigorating dining and entertainment scene. Located enticingly close to DFW, Harwood offers a calendar of health and wellness events (“Yoga in the Gardens”) together with an ongoing calendar of cultural and dining events driven by its diverse assortment of eateries. While there is a strong appeal to millennials and Gen-Z’ers, Harwood has emerged as an enticing entertainment destination for the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Market Common Clarendon, Arlington, VA (McCaffrey Interests)—A Fully Integrated Community

Opened in 2001 as a collaboration between its developer and Arlington County, Market Common Clarendon was conceived as a 24-hour “city within a city” incorporating a full range of living, working, dining and shopping options built around a park-like town square. MCC has been developed essentially as a new Arlington neighborhood, and its calendar of events is synchronized with city-wide cultural activities and food tours. The development is a sterling example of how “living centers” can be effectively integrated into their surrounding communities, and contribute to the overall character and vitality of the surrounding metropolis.

This new breed of “living centers” demonstrates that malls can continue to be vital components of both their communities and their customers’ lifestyles. The key is to shift the emphasis from “shopping” to “enjoyment”… and to create a true third place where we all can relax and regenerate in today’s complex and stressful world.

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