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Retail Revival: New developments and renovations prove retail is alive and well

The internet era hasn’t been especially kind to brick-and-mortar retailers. You don’t have to go far to find the big box-sized carcass of a Circuit City, Borders or Sears. Last year, online sales in the United States set records once again, topping $341 billion—a 15 percent bump over 2014 and an increase of 275 percent over the past decade.

Despite those staggering statistics, some retail developments are not only staying afloat but finding new life. Major projects like the City Creek Center in Salt Lake City and the $500 million upgrade of University Place (formerly known as University Mall) in Orem are drawing most of the attention, but a number of smaller developments and renovations are also popping up around the state.

Next-gen retail

Developer Bill Stone has been around long enough to know that retails trends come and go. Back in the ‘80s, the indoor mall was all the rage. Consumers loved the one-stop shop and developers loved malls because they were a controlled environment, says Stone. “We used the term ‘faux-real,’ which is just another way of saying fake. People got tired of that.”

Malls led to what developers call power centers—basically a giant collection of big-box stores. “It wasn’t really about dining or socializing. People wanted to drive to the store, run in, shop, and get out,” Stone says. While these power centers offered more choice and convenience than the mall, they soon became no match for the choice and convenience of the internet.

The Family Center in Taylorsville is a prime example of a power center. The sprawling 20-acre shopping area comprises dozens of stores and spans four city blocks. But over the past few years, giant swaths of the center have turned into ghost towns filled with empty buildings once occupied by Bed Bath and Beyond, Blockbuster Video and Circuit City.

Stone and his group of developers are working to turn the space, rebranded as The Crossroads of Taylorsville, into what he calls the next generation of retail—a cross between a mall and a power center.

“Today, people are more interested in experiences than things,” Stone says. But creating an experience for shoppers takes a lot of work. His group is demolishing more than 125,000 square feet of old buildings and reconfiguring other empty big boxes; the 90,000-square-foot Bed Bath and Beyond building will be subdivided into space for three new tenants. The existing roads and parking lots will be redesigned to be more car-friendly.

The center will also boast new dining options, with an expanded Cafe Rio location at the north end of the development to complement the separate redevelopment on the north side of 5400 South, which includes handful of new quick-serve restaurants like Five Guys and Zaxby’s.

However, the crown jewel of The Crossroads will be its new movie theater. Stone says the Regal chain theater, the first in the state, will be “a step above anything else in Utah.” He’s confident that the high-end theater, combined with the new dining options in the center, will bring new life to the center and attract shoppers from across the valley.

Following the growth

While established areas like Taylorsville are seeing retail renovation, other areas of the state are seeing retail pop up for the first time. A new development is underway just west of Daybreak, near 11800 South and the Mountain View Corridor.

“Traditionally, that area didn’t have the population or ease of access to sustain this type of development,” says Jonathan Owens, retail associate with Cushman & Wakefield/Commerce. “The Mountain View Corridor has changed all that. It’s now a much more convenient location and has the type of residential development that’s attractive to retailers.”

Though the 300,000-square-foot center will be the most convenient option for those living in the area, convenience alone is no longer enough to attract shoppers. “Commercial real estate evolves,” says Nick Clark, senior director at Cushman. “Now there needs to be an entertainment component, a type of experience you can’t get online.”

Though tenants are still signing up for the space, the usual suspects will likely be present—vitamin shops, shoe stores, jewelers and lots of clothing options. But Clark says they’re also looking to introduce “unique concepts.” That means bringing in dining options that you can’t find everywhere else. “People want high quality food. They’re looking for the next Copper Onion or Trio, not just cookie-cutter options.”

Complementing the internet

With a focus on food outlets and entertainment options, outdoor shopping centers are starting to feel more like malls. And that’s forcing actual malls to step up their game.

Though the South Towne Center has seen solid sales numbers since it opened in 1996, it’s readying for a major upgrade. The mall is now called The Shops at South Town and will have a grand reopening in November.

“The one-stop shop is a great idea, but malls haven’t always accomplished that. Now people want to shop, dine, be entertained all at the same time,” says Shops Marketing Manager Heather Nash.

Though the mall will add restaurants and to-be-determined entertainment to its exterior, there will also be major upgrades to its interior, which Nash describes as “urban meets mountain.” The food court is getting a makeover and the mall will add play areas for kids. Nash says they’re also working to bring in new tenants that shoppers can’t find anywhere else in the state.

“We’re trying to create an atmosphere that has a lot of energy.”

That energy is part of why Nash says that people still shop in malls, even when they could purchase online. She says the tenants at her mall have done a good job of creating an experience for their customers.

“When you walk in, there are TVs, music and other things that cater to their demographics. They know that their customers are now smarter shoppers, and they have to work harder to make sure their brick-and-mortars remain successful.”

Though people are shopping online, they are not always purchasing online, Nash says. “A lot of time, people are using the web for research and then they come to the brick-and-mortar to make the purchase.”

She says that 20 years ago, when online shopping began to gain traction, retailers were concerned. “But it’s evolved into a two-part process. It’s helped the consumer feel better about where their dollars are going.”

Maybe online stores and physical retailers can coexist after all.