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Monday, October 23, 2006

Atlanta's Atlantic Station - A Lifestyle Center

Atlantic Station originally uploaded by wizum.
After hearing so much about them, I have finally experienced a Lifestyle Center, this one in Atlanta - the new Atlantic Station which the website describes as a live/work/play community in midtown Atlanta.

The 9/25/06 issue of Ad Age features an article titled "If You Shopped Here, You'd Be Home By Now, FIRST IN A SERIES: Yaromir Steiner is Convinced the Future of America is the Shopping Mall" by Greg Lindsay. It defines lifestyle center as "a real-estate industry term for the upscale, open-air malls that eschew both the department-store anchors of traditional malls and big-box behemoths with acres of parking." This article and its companion piece from the 10/2/06 issue titled "Say Goodbye to the Mall SECOND IN A SERIES: Regional Plazas Face Extinction Thanks to Growth of Mixed-Use 'Lifestyle Centers'" provide a fascinating glimpse on how this new phenomenon differs from the traditional mall.

In case you weren't aware, the traditional mall is a thing of the past. No new malls are scheduled for development for the foreseeable future. Instead, we'll see approx. 60 new lifestyle centers going up between now and 2008. The reason? "It's a couple of things," said Michael Kercheval, CEO of the ICSC. "One is recognizing that the baby boomers will respond ideally to something that recalls their pasts. The second is that it's much easier these days to win approvals from cities, towns and their mayors to build a mixed-use development with trees and fountains than a mall, when the outside of most malls resembles a prison surrounded by a sea of asphalt." [grim description!]

Lifestyle centers -like Atlantic Station- recreate the feel of an urban center, with streets and traffic and stores mixed in with restaurants and movie theaters, offering convenience, camaraderie and entertainment on a human scale. Retailers generally feel that the centers "actually liberate and empower their brands in a manner the typical enclosed mall never could."

They break with traditional malls on several fronts: no department store anchors and plenty of 'barriers' to fully engage shoppers in the experience [e.g., streets to cross, traffic to watch out for, no piped-in music, unexpected weather...]. In integrating living with shopping and working, they represent the "holy grail" of New Urbanism, "the movement of urban planners and architects working to reintroduce the human scale and layouts of traditional towns to the snarled development of sprawl."

To get a big picture perspective of Atlantic Station, I purposely stayed in the car [I was also really tired!]. Next time, I'll go for the pedestrian approach.

Atlantic Station is still a work in progress, but as part of a large sprawling city like Atlanta, it is widely touted as an excellent example where living, working, shopping are fully integrated in a more holistic manner. [See Atlantic Station Delivers by Suzanne Marques from the 10/19/2005 issue of 11Alive.com.]

It's a massive project with 3000 to 5000 residential units [10,000 people expected to live there eventually]. IKEA anchors one end of the 138 acre environmental redevelopment and reclamation of the former Atlantic Station Steel Mill. It will include 15 million square feet of retail, office and residential and hotel space broken down as 11 acres of public parks, 2 million square feet of retail space, and 1000 hotel rooms. Just staggering, and equivalent to creating a small city [it even has its own zip code]!

As of October 2006, the core shopping district is mostly complete [Target has yet to be built]. In many ways, it resembles a traditional mall laid out in an urban grid complete with streets and parallel parking spots [time to polish those skills!]. Ample parking is available underground and subway-like stairways take you above ground to the shopping.

A surprise: a supermarket amidst the Studio D, Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie and other stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. Kind of neat - if you don't mind shlepping your grocery bags around.

Although some of the retail spaces will have living spaces above them, I was disappointed that the townhouses/condos weren't better integrated with the shopping/dining/entertaining areas. Living, although compact, is still separate from the rest and has a suburban feel [except for those few who live immediately adjacent to the action]. If I assume that a lifestyle center wants to create an urban area similar to a NYC or a San Francisco or a Paris where neighborhoods have distinct personalities resulting from the neighboring resources, then I would expect flower shops and corner grocers interspersed amidst the buildings in the 'Home Park' and the 'Commons'. Where are those 3rd places [as described by Ray Oldenburg in his book "The Great, Good Place"] that create community? I hope they're coming.

I was also surprised at the potential for intense traffic jams within the 'District'. On the plus side, it allowed me to gawk from my car and experience the big picture! Rereading the Ad Age articles, though, I appreciate that the congestion is part of the experience!

That said, I'm interested in watching how this develops. I'm excited about the concept of lifestyle centers. These are models for smart growth and sustainable development. They are also about retail experience and integrating that experience into our work/live/play lives, creating an environment that fights urban sprawl, attempts to recreate urban town centers, and certainly addresses the flaws of the mall model [Have you read Paco Underhill's "Call of the Mall"? See recommended reading section/retail trends].

Lifestyle centers represent a fascinating opportunity for retailers, too. Especially those wanting to test new formats and approaches that mesh more fully into their target audiences' lives. What an opportunity for a carpet or flooring store to reinvent the store model -- maybe as a "flooring cafe" as suggested by John Jantshch from Duct Tape Marketing in this post titled The Return of the Department Store -- in a format that could create that 3rd place, and establish itself fully into the day-to-day lives of the consumers of this mini-city! It's ripe for the picking for retailers with the right level of passion! If you aren't convinced that some get it, read Atlantic Station broadens retail base from the 10/5/06 issue of TheStoryGroup.com.

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Wizum said...

Nice article on Atlantic Station. I am an architect and saw the original master plan renderings that were done by TVS (located here in Atlanta). what AS became hardly resembles what the master plan called for. Overall I think they really missed an opportunity with AS. You mentioned a couple of those things that really have made "what it became" to "what it should/could have been". Firstly its the cars and the traffic issues that the retail/commercial district has already, and I have heard that the development for AS is only 50% complete. Secondly, on the car issue, or I should say transportation issue, the integration with AS with the rest of Atlanta is very poor. It is almost its own city. Mass transit (light-rail) should have been integrated as well to help in this, but of course wasn't.

Then we have the 17th street bridge, another big missed opportunity. The AIA was pushing for the city to have a Calatrava like design to make a statement for the city for such an important development and bridge, but the city, and state, said "no, thats OK we can do a eye catching bridge too". Did you see it? did it catch your eye? Well who can't ignore the yellow :).

Finally, you made mention of the way that most of the residential is seperate from the shopping and commercial stuff. This is one of the reasons that AS is a terrible plan and why it won't be the success it should have been.

Anyhow, can you tell I am not a big fan of the development? The place just doesn't have a sense of place at all. the feeling it gives is of a movie set, not a place to live/work/play, as they advertise it to be.

Great write up though and as long as you referrence my images (give me credit) I have no problems with you using them. But, If you do use them for more than the Blog please notify me first. Thanks,

aka. Scott Moore

CB Whittemore said...

Scott, thanks very much for sharing your architect's perspective on AS, as well as your photo[s]. Have you found a lifestyle center that does a better job of truly integrating the aspects of live/work/play [and transportation]? If so, I'd love to share that in a guest post. Best, C.B.

Wizum said...

Yes, I can name two that I know of and one that I am about a mile from. I will email you about these.

Anonymous said...

There may be some confusion here regarding Atlantic Station's master plan. The original plan by TVS was suburban at best with single-use areas of garden apartments, low-rise office complexes and huge mixed-use super blocks near the interstate. The plan has evolved a great deal since going through 5 or 6 iterations.

If you look at the current plan: http://www.atlanticstation.com/site.php notice the degree to which the District mixes uses. The current state of construction at Atlantic Station doesn't convey the full plan, particularly south of 17th Street where a huge hole exists. It will take 10 years to build everything out and this hole will be filled with high-density office, residential and hotel uses all with street-level retail.

As a note, "Lifestyle Centers" usually max out at 350,000 SF and is a term impossible to find anywhere in Atlantic Station's propaganda. People want to knock it because it doesn't have the patina of Little 5 Points. Give it time and let it evolve.

CB Whittemore said...

AS Insider, thanks for your comments. As you say, we just have to wait and see given how long it will take to complete the project. I do plan to revisit on a regular basis.

Mary Soderstrom said...

I'm working on a book to be called The Walkable City: from Haussmann's Boulevards to Jane Jacobs Streets and Beyond so I spent an afternoon last week--one of the coldest dats of the winter so far, about O F--at Dix30, which bills itself as Canada's first lifestyle centre.

The place has been open about a year at the interection of two major highway on the south shore of the St. Lawrence near Montreal.

No housing integrated into the development as yet, and it seems to me to be aDisneyland-like gimmick that is going to run into major problems wherever weather is too hot or too cold frequently.

Better to save real main streets than to attempt to create erzatz ones.


CB Whittemore said...

Mary, un grand merci pour votre commentaire! Very interesting to learn about a Canadian lifestyle center; as you remark, extreme weather conditions do complicate the experience.

Your book sounds fascinating! Good luck with the research.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Thanks for your good wishes.

Might I suggest that anybody who is interested in the retail business should read a novel by Emile Zola, the French naturalist writer, The Ladies' Paradise (called Au bonheur des dames in French.)

It was published something like 125 years ago, but what he observes sounds extremely up to date. I wrote a blog entry on it a while ago: http://marysoderstrom.blogspot.com/2007/07/lessons-that-walmart-could-learn-from.html



CB Whittemore said...

Mary, thank you for suggesting Emile Zola. I have just ordered the book and can't wait to read it.

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