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An influx of restaurants and entertainment concepts is changing the look of shopping centers nationwide and altering the role these centers play in their communities. It is a trend Retail Properties of America has seen play out firsthand as owner and operator of 192 retail properties encompassing nearly 30 million sq. ft. Chain Store Age spoke with Greg Goldberg, VP and leasing director – eastern division for RPAI, about the growing prevalence of restaurant and entertainment uses.

The tenant mix is always changing in retail developments, but the influx of restaurant and entertainment uses the past few years has been dramatic. Why are we seeing this shift?

The growth of online has pushed retailers and shopping center owners to create unique store and center experiences to draw retail traffic. Consumers expect centers to offer not only food, fun and entertainment, but also such services as doctors’ offices and health clubs. With this new retail landscape of shopping as a destination, landlords and retailers are seeing the benefits of restaurants and theaters, and are discovering that increasing trips to the center for entertainment and dining creates synergies that benefit retail tenants and helps improve the overall profitability of the center. We also know that a great restaurant can attract diners from outside of a traditionally defined trade area, and it’s common for diners to shop before or after a meal. Urban Outfitters recently acquired Pizzeria Vetri (a pizza chain), which we believe is an attempt to directly leverage the synergy between great food offerings and great retail.

How are these trends playing out at RPAI properties?

You can see this trend throughout RPAI’s portfolio but it is most prominent in our mixed-use/ lifestyle centers. For example, when we purchased The Shops at Legacy in Plano, Texas, in 2007, it was the place to eat, drink, and go out to the movies but had no soft goods. In order to create a “shopping destination,” we started to add key soft good retailers that would complement the types of dining and entertainment options available at the center, and today it’s a great combination of the two formats, making it one of the strongest centers in the Dallas MSA. It is this same trend that attracted us to Downtown Crown, a mixed-use project located in the Washington, D.C. MSA, which we purchased last year. Downtown Crown contains 258,000 sq. ft. of retail space, including a neighborhood center component anchored by Harris Teeter, and a lifestyle center component anchored by a variety of national and regional restaurant concepts, such as Coastal Flats, Ted’s Montana Grill, Old Town Pour House and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. We see the same opportunities here that we saw in The Shops at Legacy — the center has great restaurants, outdoor seating and a great overall experience. So the next step is bringing in the right mix of “soft good” national, regional and local retailers that will complete and foster an overall unique street experience and make the property a true shopping destination.

Are you seeing these trends play out differently across your portfolio of lifestyle centers and mixed-use properties, power centers and community and neighborhood centers?

We see the same trend with our neighborhood and power centers, just different types of restaurants. The neighborhood centers tend to have more success with high carryout concepts, such as sandwich shops, pizza and ethnic restaurants. Those types of concepts complement the convenience-oriented nature of the grocery store anchors. Power centers have more of a regional draw, so we are able to attract better quick-service (Chipotle, Panera Bread and Noodles & Co) and sit-down (Darden, Outback and BWW) restaurants. Either way you look at it, it’s all about increasing the number of trips to a center, regardless of center type.

What are you seeing in terms of some of the more interesting entertainment uses?

The sky is the limit with entertainment. We have been approached by rock-climbing facilities, trampoline parks, pet-focused restaurant concepts and simulated indoor golf facilities, to name a few.

What’s the reaction been from more traditional retail tenants when a center they are in becomes populated with uses like restaurants, fitness centers or movie theaters?

I think the overall response has been very positive. These entertainment uses add trips and foot traffic to the center and they tend to be at the same price points as the retailers who share their space — therefore they are finding everyone is doing better. As long as the center has the right configuration and parking, it’s a huge win-win for all involved.

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