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5Qs for Jim Zboril on art installations

Neither billionaire Joe Lewis nor his Tavistock Development Company do things in a small way. Take Lake Nona near the Orlando, Fla., airport. Its 17 square miles houses 15,000 residents, three hospitals, two universities, and the national campus of the United States Tennis Association. Retail recently made a grand appearance in a town center curated by Steiner + Associates. Along the way, Lake Nona’s amassed a world-renowned collection of public art that includes a 35-foot-high chrome-plated dog and a parking garage wrapped in binary code. The collection is curated by Tavistock president Jim Zboril, who spoke with us about art’s essential place in the modern town center.

What does public art mean for customer engagement?
People are looking for unique experiences. A piece of art in a public place gives that place a real permanency and sense of importance. As shopping center developers, it’s important that we engage people at a higher level so that they can be engaged with the spaces we design for them.

Is a public art strategy now a must for mixed-use town centers?
Nobody’s building one-dimensional spaces but for the real commodity-type centers, where the idea is to have big-box retailers and to get the people in and out quickly and conveniently and at the lowest price possible. Every other set of retail center strategy is about place-making and making a place special.

What drives your strategy?
One of the things we’ve said from the beginning is that, every time we build a major project, we must have a major art installation. We want people to relate to the art and feel part of it. We didn’t name the big dog at Lake Nona. Instead we took community suggestions for names and we will let the community vote on the name through social media. There’s been a lot of research done on art and wellness and how it can make people feel better about themselves.

Have you become something of an art expert through this journey?
No, my background is in large-scale community development. But Lake Nona has given us an opportunity to put in some pieces that separate it from other places. We have a diverse population that comes to this place--patients for the VA Hospital, medical students, homeowners at various price points, their children. We hope that the art we put here serves as a unifying element.

What pieces are your personal favorites?
Jefre Manuel’s dog reminds me of The Bean in Chicago, and look what that has done for Chicago. Then there is the Glass House by Tom Fruin. I was driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway some years ago and saw this stained glass representation of the rooftop water towers you see in New York. We arranged with Fruin to have the Glass House placed in one of our communities, and we eventually bought it from him. What’s touching to me is when someone takes a wedding photo in front of it and sends it to us. That can’t help but make you feel good.

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