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Getting the lay of the landscaping


Gathering places and green spaces must be in the designs every new shopping center on the boards today. If you want people to come to a place to shop, you must first make them want to come to the place.

With that in mind, I sat down with three highly respected colleagues in the business to learn what’s drawing customers to the centers they’ve been working on. DJM Capital Partners president Lindsay Parton oversees all development and construction at his company. Sean Slater, a principal of Retail Design Collaborative, recently received an award from the Urban Land Institute for co-authoring New Suburbanism: Reinventing Inner-Ring Suburbs. Lifescapes International’s senior principal Alvaro Amador is a designer and master-planner whose ideas helped shape The Bellagio in Las Vegas and the MGM and Four Seasons in Macau.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

Brinkerhoff-Jacobs:Looking back, what amenities and features in the designs of your projects have you found to have shown the greatest returns?

Slater: Water features are an essential focal point in the most memorable projects. From the early Caruso project, The Lakes at Thousand Oaks, to Wet Design’s fire and water feature at Branson Landing, to the myriad fountains and water elements in enclosed malls, the joy that guests find in seeing something so elemental is a guarantee of increased dwell time and increased sales.

Amador: Outdoor living rooms provide a lot of bang for their buck. By giving visitors places to relax and hang out, they spend more time on property and overlap meal times, thereby allowing food establishments to capitalize on their length of stay. More time translates to more spend.

At The Point in El Segundo, we put seating areas around a fire pit and a foosball table for recreation, all surrounded by a large, programmable lawn. These elements cultivated a neighborhood-friendly, community environment.

Parton: Our Kids Boat Fountain at Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach. We took inspiration from the fountains in the gardens in Paris and custom-built a cart with Lido Marina Village-branded toy boats. Kids can come and sail the boats in the water at no charge. It’s become one of those little things that set us apart. Families look forward to making that special memory at our property.

Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: As time passed, what aspects of the designs have you found needed to be updated or altered to meet the needs of the guests and the retailers?

Parton: We recently upgraded the furniture design at Pacific City in Huntington Beach to create more opportunities for people to relax and spend more time at the project between shopping and dining. When we first opened, we noticed that people gravitated towards the soft seating we had, so we added more of that style to meet the needs of our guests.

Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: What new technologies are becoming “the new normal?”

Amador: One thing that has changed in the last five years is that Uber and Lyft pick-up areas must be accounted for in the design of traffic flow. Also, with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, charging stations need to be provided. Digital advertising has become more prominent on property, and new apps have changed the guest experience by allowing people to navigate their way around retail centers and even make reservations at the restaurants on property.

Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: How have developers’ initial investments in landscaping yielded returns in terms of customer appreciation, foot traffic, and length of stay?

Slater: I recall a story that Yaromir Steiner described of the early days of Easton Town Center in which he hired young people to watch the shoppers dwell-time at various landscape elements. I think that marked a change in the industry’s recognition of the primacy of landscape in the shopping experience.

Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: Name a particular challenge you faced at a property that was solved by creative landscaping.

Slater: At the Mueller Austin project in Texas, the use of public parks as anchors to a retail street, connected by a double-width paseo -- replete with lighting, seating, and paving design -- was a creative way of driving end-to-end traffic in the project.

Parton: We were challenged with the planter boxes at Pacific City during construction because the project spans two levels of retail. Instead of having four-foot-high planters blocking tenant views, the landscape architect came up with an idea to put the trees in tubes and reduce the planter size. This helped create the landscaping feel we had hoped for, while maintaining tenants’ views of the Pacific Ocean as well as the beautiful views of the landscaping by Lifescapes.

Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs is president of Lifescapes International, a landscape architecture with a worldwide reputation in retail centers. Julie can be reached at [email protected].
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