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Ohio’s Easton Town Center is named No. 1 Retail Center Experience in U.S.

Al Urbanski
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Easton Town Center, Columbus’s 1,300-acre mixed-use development with more than 200 retail shops, has been named the No. 1 Retail Center Experience in the United States by Chain Store Age in its annual listing of the Top 10.

American Dream, the 3 million-sq.-ft. theme-park-cum-retail-cum-dining center in New Jersey was named No. 2, and the reimagined Galleria Dallas mall was No. 3 in the magazine’s list of retail centers focused not just on shopping excellence, but on creating spaces and places for human engagement.

Since 2017, Chain Store Age has called for nominations from retail real estate developers for centers that are paradigms of physical retail’s new wave:  Places that provide consumers with popular food and beverage spots, greenspaces, local providers of goods and services--and even residences, workplaces, and medical services.

The Top 10 Retail Center Experiences of 2021 are…

No. 1 Easton Town Center – Columbus, Ohio
More than 30 million people visit the 2.9 million-sq.-ft. complex founded by L Brands chief Les Wexner each year and spend more than a billion dollars there. It offers 50-plus food and beverage options. Operator Steiner + Associates signed leases with 10 new tenants during the pandemic and opened the 16-acre, $500 million New District in early 2021.

No. 2 American Dream –The Meadowlands, New Jersey
Though the pandemic shut down Mall of America owner Triple Five’s bold new project shortly after it opened in 2019, it has been selling out its Dreamworks water park with the biggest wave pool in the U.S., its Nickelodeon theme park, and America’s first indoor ski slope. A luxury retail wing featuring Hermès, Saint Laurent, Tiffany & Co., and Saks Fifth Avenue debuts this fall. 

No. 3 Galleria Dallas – Dallas, Texas
Trademark Property has taken over management of this skylit Dallas retail landmark inspired by Italy’s oldest active shopping center, Galleria Emanuele II, and refurbished it with hand-cut Italian marble and wood. Its gala Christmas celebration—the centerpiece of which is a 95-foot-tall tree in the center of its NHL-sized skating rink—drew 16,000 visitors from 770 ZIP Codes in 2020.                   

No. 4 Tuscan Village – Salem, New Hampshire
First-time retail center developer Joe Faro’s 170-acre mixed-use development north of Boston is not yet fully completed, but has been full of people and hailed by Gov. Christopher Sununu as “the gateway to New Hampshire.”  Its centerpiece is a lake where tenant L.L. Bean rents kayaks.

No. 5 National Harbor – Washington, D.C.
Peterson Companies founder Milt Peterson bought this mile and a half piece of land on the Potomac River more than 20 years ago and turned it into a neighborhood and tourist destination with 160 stores, 40 restaurants, 2,500 residents, and the 180-foot-high Capital Wheel. Its 30-piece outdoor art assemblage is valued at more than $10 million.

No. 6 La Centerra at Cinco Ranch – Katy, Texas
It’s hard for guests to not find everything they need and want at Poag Shopping Center’s 400,000-sq.-ft. center near downtown Katy. It offers two dozen food and beverage stops and an across-the-board tenant lineup that includes Kendra Scott, Peloton, Image Orthodontics, Edward James, Jos. A. Bank, Music & Arts Center, Trader Joe’s, and Sephora.

No. 7 Downtown Silver Spring – Silver Spring, Maryland
This Peterson Companies project cast a fresh light on this D.C. suburb and attracted a new wave of upscale residents with its re-do of the project it built 20 years ago. Art and color refreshed DSS with a 300-foot-long street mural fueled by sound, a 20-foot- high flower-tower titled “The Queen of Blooms,” and Blumen Lumen--a 25-foot-tall sculpture of stainless steel flowers that open and close as the sun rises and sets.

No. 8 Avalon – Alpharetta, Georgia
When malls and shopping centers began reinventing themselves last year, the center most focused on as a model  was North American Properties’ Avalon mixed-use center. Its blend of local and luxury retail, hotel, office space, high-end apartments, restaurants and bars, and ever-present events keep it alive 18 hours a day. Employees-- from senior executives to housekeepers--are trained to be “ExperienceMakers.”

No. 9 Mellody Farm – Vernon Hills, Illinois
Regency Center sought to invent a new type of outdoor center in an up-and-coming Chicago suburb. Sidewalks are wider than one would expect. Colorful benches dot the walkways and invite photos. Events and art exhibitions have a regular schedule. “We engaged with locals and asked them what they’d like to see in the center, and we gave it to them,” said Regency marketing VP Jan Hanak.

No. 10 Crocker Park – Westlake, Ohio
Bob Stark wanted this mixed-use center he put up west of Cleveland 20 years ago to be like a neighborhood in New York. Apartments above classy retail and dining. Parks, offices, squares. He even built an event center. “Our residential occupancy is 100%. Retail leasing activity is greater than it was before the pandemic,” said Bob’s son Ezra Stark, the COO of Stark Enterprises. “If retailers want to make an impact on the west side, they come to Crocker Park.”

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