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Greg Goldberg on live-work-play the RPAI way

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 thought, planning, and plain hard work that goes into building successful mixed-use centers. Greg Goldberg, VP and leasing director for the eastern division Retail Properties of America, Inc., (RPAI) can attest to that, as he did recently to Chain Store Age.

CSA: RPAI is known for high-quality centers in growth markets. What’s your game plan for accomplishing that?
GOLDBERG: 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. 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.

CSA: You’re in the middle of an interesting redevelopment in Towson, Maryland, in which you’re completely redoing a high-traffic spot in the center of town. Tell us about it.
GOLDBERG: 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. We are 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, which features a state-of-the-art Cinemark. This gives us complete control of the east bloc of the circle and lets us deliver a true Main Street experience.

CSA: Sounds like a complicated undertaking.
GOLDBERG: We could have kept 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.

CSA: To ease the process of working with Towson city planners?
GOLDBERG: No, the city was very supportive. Towson Circle was the hole in the doughnut in downtown Towson, and they were excited to work with us. We are retail-focused when it comes to development.. We don’t think of building an office building and then adding 2,000 square feet of retail on the street. 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 then work up. Other developers that focus on office, residential or hotel plan their buildings from the roof down.

CSA: So how is the process different with an office-based mixed-use project, like the one you’re building in Ashburn, Virginia?
GOLDBERG: One Loudoun is a much bigger project than Towson. This is a wider-scope project since our site is on a lot of land. Its 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 theatre, a two-level gym, parks, walkways, and a new national grocer coming soon. And we have 150,000 square feet of offices space that is already 98% leased.

CSA: And that makes it an attractive place to live as well, I take it.
GOLDBERG: Sure. Why would you want to live here? Because you’re in the heart of everything. It’s the place to get lunch or dinner. It’s the place to be seen. Residential trends are shifting where people are renting more. They like to live near where they work, have stores, restaurants, gyms, within walking distance. They like to spend more of their disposable income on dining out, and they don’t want to drive to a mall 30 minutes away.

CSA: What is it about Ashburn that you think is making this work?
GOLDBERG: 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. You combine the incredible demographics that Loudoun County, VA has with job growth, population growth, and incredible infrastructure, it makes way for an incredible project
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