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5Qs for Mark Toro on maintaining relevance in brick-and-mortar retail

Al Urbanski
Toro Development Company CEO Mark Toro

In 2020, an upscale mixed-use project called Avalon in Alpharetta, Ga., logged more pre-holiday traffic than Lenox Square, North Point Mall, and Perimeter Mall—Atlanta’s premier shopping destinations. (North Point was handed back to its lenders and is now being redeveloped into a mixed-use project.

The lead developer of Avalon at North American Properties, Mark Toro, set out on his own last year and founded the Toro Development Company. Having announced his first big project—Medley in Johns Creek, Ga.—we caught up with him to learn more about what’s on his agenda these days.

What are some of the social drivers of the upscale, mixed-use projects you develop?
It’s primarily two factors—income and density. Couple those with high population growth potential and you’re looking at a long-term opportunity. What we’re doing is building cities within cities to capture and retain human energy. The thing that attracts people—and we all noticed this post-pandemic—is that we want to be where other people are.  Human energy is our stock and trade. We build places that house that energy. We are in the hospitality and energy business.

We live in a society that is inundated with new choices. What’s hot this year is not necessarily hot five years down the road. How do you plan to cycle trendy new tenants into your projects?
We don’t build projects, we build communities. The other word we don’t use is “center.” We design the spaces so that they’re integrated with the others.

The fact that the retail offering can be shifted over the term of the community is very helpful. It refreshes the street-level experience, so five-year or one- or two-year terms and pop-ups are preferable. The shorter the term the better, because the health and welfare of the tenant is unknown at the outset. Relevance is the new credit. Freestanding retail, restaurants, boxes, detached and attached family residential…that variety of uses maintains the longevity of the community.

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“The shorter the lease term the better, because the health and welfare of the tenant is unknown at the outset. Relevance is the new credit.”

Tell us about Toro Development’s first big…excuse us…project called Medley in Johns Creek that will blend retail with office, town homes, multifamily and a large medical facility.
Johns Creek is the wealthiest community in the state of Georgia. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen an average household income that started with a two--$200,000. It’s close to Avalon, so we won’t offer significant soft goods. Avalon serves the entire region with soft goods. We don’t need to duplicate.

So, in effect, you’re building Johns Creek a downtown.
It will be a place to gather. If you look at a Starbucks, it’s a room where you’re alone in a room full of buzz and human activity. That’s what we provided at Colony Square and Avalon. We became the "third place" where people got together.

Johns Creek was incorporated in 2007, and it’s been seeking its "third place."  There’s no there there, and the name Medley is indicative of the variety of offerings we’ll bring to it. It’s not a shopping center, not an office complex, not a residential development--it’s all of those things.

Will we be seeing other new developments from your company anytime soon? Anything outside of the Southeast?
We have two other projects we’ll be announcing soon, both residues of failed developments and greenfield sites, all surrounded by dense residential communities. We’re sticking to high-growth communities in the Southeast.

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