Editor’s note: The new mall proposed at the Dorsey Drive Interchange has been likened to the Fountains at Roseville — the Sacramento region’s first “lifestyle center” that opened in 2008. At the CDR meeting in Grass Valley this week, the word “destination” was used again for the proposed mall — a place where people and families could hang out for five hours or so, shopping, dining, watching movies and the like.
A lifestyle center — a term coined in the late ’80s by Memphis developers — is a shopping center or mixed-used commercial development that combines the traditional retail functions of a shopping mall with leisure amenities oriented towards upscale consumers.
The Fountains was “designed as a destination for shoppers to relax, shop and have fun from daybreak to sundown.” It includes holiday events, summer concerts, wine walks and more — just like a downtown. It is anchored by Whole Foods Market, restaurants and speciality shops.
The Dorsey Interchange mall could include an expanded BriarPatch Market and multi-plex Sierra Cinemas, among other tenants, according to my sources. No decision has been made, however. A big-box store is expected to be included in the mix, though not an anchor tenant, as in a traditional mall.
There is an ongoing debate across America about whether these so-called lifestyle malls are cannibalizing historic downtowns.
In our case, we have to ask if our community’s population is big enough to support historic Grass Valley and Nevada City, as well as a new “lifestyle center.” New housing at Loma Rica — part of the long-term plan, I suspect — could add to the population base. But whether the people will come here to make the plan “pan out” remains an open question. It’s a gamble on our community’s future, and we need to begin thinking more deeply about it. It also will test the vibrancy of our downtowns as “destinations.” We need real leadership too, not people thinking in “silos.”
Here’s an article from National Trust Main Street Center (a group that is focused on preserving historic downtowns) titled “From Main Street: Will Lifestyle Centers replace Downtown?” Grass Valley is a member of the Main Street Program.
“Lifestyle centers — a new open-air retail format smaller than a regional mall and often unanchored by traditional department stores — are developers’ response to a changing retail landscape. These centers cater to the specialty retailers, restaurants, and service chains that continue to add new store locations. The open-air format, design and amenities, and concentration of entertainment uses seek to create a more exciting environment to attract customers.
“Interestingly, developers of lifestyle centers looked to traditional downtowns as an inspiration in creating the new format. For example:
“•Shops open directly to the sidewalk. Cars have even been introduced into the center with streets and parking.
“•The center will usually have entertainment uses, such as theaters and fitness centers. Residential or office uses may also be incorporated into the mix.
“The format also gives mall operators an advantage over traditional downtowns in that, as private property, they are able to better regulate many of the issues that present challenges for downtown programs, such as:
“•Location. A lifestyle center, as a new creation, can be located in the best place relative to population and transportation networks.
“•New design. Designed from scratch, it can also create a pattern of uses, circulation, common spaces, and parking that addresses the desires of tenants and customers alike.
“•Ownership. Owning the properties allows operators to approve or disapprove of potential tenants, determine where they can locate in the center, regulate facades and signs, and establish policies for hours of operation.
“•Available resources. Tenant fees, paid by all, go toward providing security, maintaining common areas, and promoting the center, without the need for a member-based organization or business improvement district.
“But do lifestyle centers really succeed in recreating the experience of a true downtown? While there are some very good examples of lifestyle malls as ‘new town centers,’ the majority fall short in their design, more closely resembling the open air malls that were built until enclosed malls became the norm in the 1960s.
“Even the best of the centers, though, still miss the mark in a few key areas. Despite their design appeal, lifestyle malls are filled with the same shops selling the same merchandise and the same restaurants with the same food as every other mall in America. Although safe and clean, they may also appear a bit sterile.
“A close look at the buildings reveals them to be large structures with tacked-on facades, rather than individual structures with their own history. In fact, it is history that is missing from the picture. A true downtown has a patina, a unique feel, a randomness that can’t be duplicated.
“Downtowns will not compete by trying to be like lifestyle centers, even though there are lessons to be learned from their design and management practices.
“Instead, downtowns will succeed based on their ability to differentiate themselves from the homogeneous aspects of these malls. They will build on their history, promote their unique shops and restaurants, incorporate residential and employment uses, provide flexibility in design, and celebrate the quirks, scars, and oddities that have appeared over time.
The full article is here.