Developers Talk Shop: RPAI
It’s easy for developers to talk a good game of live-work-play, of creating exciting, life-surrounding experiences to meet the exacting standards of an affluent population with abundant choices. But untold is the thought, planning, and plain hard work that goes into building successful mixed-use centers. Greg Goldberg, VP and leasing director for the eastern division of RPAI, can attest to that, as he did recently to Chain Store Age.
RPAI is known for high-quality centers in growth markets. What’s your game plan for accomplishing that?
We’re seeing the benefits of taking typical shopping centers and turning them into mixed-use centers with 24-hour experiences. The merchandising in these projects depends on what the project is a part of. Is it a suburban project where you want to create a mini-city and offer people restaurants, entertainment, and streetscapes? Are you dealing with a heavy office population or a heavy residential population? That’s where you start in determining who the right retailers are for the project.
You’re in the middle of an interesting redevelopment in Towson, Md. Tell us about it.
Towson is an affluent suburb of Baltimore where we control the section in the middle of town located on the traffic circle contiguous to Towson Town Center anchored by Nordstrom and Macy’s. The existing site wasn’t configured right from the start; it featured one side of the street as a hole with lower level parking and retail entrances that ran under the road. As part of our development plan, we’re moving the retail up to the street to create a double-sided retail presence and redeveloping the existing space to better serve pedestrian traffic. We partnered with Avalon Bay to develop a mixed-use project where the hole was located into street level retail and approximately 370 residential units above. The third element to this project is our recent acquisition of the new adjacent development, Towson Square. The center features a state-of-the-art Cinemark and a variety of restaurants. We will connect all three elements by widening the sidewalks, changing the landscaping, and it will be branded as Circle East. This provides us complete control of the east block of the circle.
Sounds like a complicated undertaking.
We could have kept it in its current configuration and kept leasing it is. But there are 10- to 15-story buildings in areas of Towson, and we looked at the increasing density and said this should be more of a downtown complex instead of a suburban complex. So, yes, we had to work through the process of negotiating with the retail tenants to get control of the building.
You’re totally re-thinking the retail aspect?
Being retail focused, we deal from the street up. The sidewalks, landscaping, retail facades, outdoor seating. What will the experience be on the street level? Other developers that focus on office, residential, and hotel plan their buildings from the roof down.
How is the process different with an office-based mixed-use project, like the one you’re building in Ashburn, Va.?
One Loudoun is a much bigger project than Towson. It’s located in a high-growth, high-income area, the wealthiest county in the country. But it still harks back to our street-up philosophy. One Loudoun has restaurants, an Alamo movie theater, a two-level gym, parks, walkways, and a new national grocer coming soon. It is the place where people from the area want to work, and have the convenience to easily walk downstairs for lunch, or connect with their friends for drinks or dinner. We want them to say, “We’re going to Loudoun” instead of “We’re going downtown.” People like to spend more of their disposable income on dining out, and they don’t want to drive to a mall 30 minutes away.
What is it about Ashburn that you think is making this work?
The bottom line for projects like this one is to be in a market with high disposable incomes, a strong job base, and higher levels of education in order to drive the sales and growth retailers need. When you combine the incredible demographics that Loudoun County, Va., has with job growth, population growth, and incredible infrastructure, it makes for an incredible project.