Page 12 — Retail Properties Quarterly — November 2022 Design O ne late summer afternoon in Denver, a pedestrian- filled thoroughfare is dotted with people enjoying the Colorado sunshine. A young family exits a restaurant after break- fast and browses local shops on the way toward the splash pad. Another couple park their bikes and head into brunch before meeting friends for a live concert on the block. While both the family and couple will spend money here, what may ultimately prove just as valuable (when measuring the success of this retail block) is what else they are spending: their time. It’s well documented that the amount of time spent in a retail envi- ronment has a direct correlation to consumer spending. But after a signif- icant shift in retail dynamics and the broad adoption of e-commerce, what makes a retail district so compelling that it draws people en masse on a regular basis? The mix of shops and restaurants is certainly a big part of the equation. But all things being rela- tively equal, what helps set one retail district apart from another? How do you ensure it’s your block people want to visit? For a decade now, we have worked with the developers on the design of retail districts, transit malls and public plazas throughout the Rocky Moun- tain Region and the Southwest. While the last few years have thrown many things into upheaval, the fact remains that, given the choice, people will consistently choose to visit retail that offers a compelling public realm experi- ence. When thinking about what creates a compelling experi- ence and differenti- ates a retail envi- ronment for today’s consumer, we are typically looking at three factors: defin- ing the character of the place through design, scale and materiality; programming the public realm as a day-to-night destination; and establishing strong indoor/out- door connections. n Defining character through design, scale and materiality. How do you know you’re in RiNo vs. Cherry Creek? The scale, materiality, color and light you experience in the public realm can define the perceived char- acter of a particular block, plaza or district. People may not remember the sleek branding for your retail district, but they’ll remember how romantic it felt to walk under a canopy of lights on a tree-lined street, or how exciting it was to see those artists painting that mural, or how much their kids loved the play structure that looked like a Colorado mountainscape. The public realm offers an opportunity to communicate the type of experience people can expect. For Superior Town Center, we’re con- structing a public realm design that is intended to offer a rich and varied experience with programming for all ages, such as a splash pad and interactive fountain, a big climbing rock and swing play fea- tures, and an out- door amphitheater for programmed events like its chili cook-off and Friday night jazz events. The space is con- ceptualized as a destination for people of all generations to make memories. For the Four Mile Entertainment District in Glendale, the developer recognized that most of the area’s development historically turned away from Cherry Creek. So, with this development, we are embrac- ing the creek, with plazas and open spaces blending seamlessly to the adjacent greenway and creek. Plazas and open spaces will be designed for a strong connection to and interaction with the landscape, offering a unique experience that invites the natural edge into this curated retail and entertainment environment. n Programming a day-to-night desti- nation. When properly activated, the public realm can become a destina- tion in and of itself any time of day, all year long. At South Pier in Tempe, Arizona, the experience of connecting with the lake and the striking Papago Butte views is driving all the design deci- sions. The project, which will con- sist of three residential towers with ground-floor retail and restaurants, has an intentional blend of active, programmed and calm, passive spac- es that embody the feeling of being at the “lake house.” By providing areas to relax and escape, as well as gather and socialize, residents and visitors can choose the way they would like to interact with the space at any given time. The revitalized 16th Street Mall in Denver will similarly feature different layers of activation from day to night, including new play and interactive features, Instagrammable moments for visitors, places to be social and hear live music, and comfortable spots to sit and people-watch. The goal is to make it easy for people to delight in their experience no matter their interest or the time they visit. A good public realm design should also make a place compelling even – and especially – when there’s noth- ing special going on. To draw visitors after the sun sets at Four Mile District, we’re adding an interactive light forest within the public realm, providing a wow factor and creatively reinforcing the biophilic nature of the brand of the development. When it comes to determining loca- tion and types of programming, we prioritize flexibility with spaces that can easily scale up for larger events like farmers markets, concerts and festivals without feeling empty on days when events aren’t taking place. We also recommend bringing in the operations team or a programming consultant early during the design phase to help plan and troubleshoot for those larger events. Factors such as maintenance and location of ele- ments like power sources and entry- egress can make a difference in the successful operation of a big event. n Creating strong indoor-outdoor con- nections. Indoor-outdoor connections have been growing in popularity in food, beverage and retail environ- ments for years, but the pandemic put those trends into overdrive. Consum- ers are looking for open-air shopping experiences; they want people-watch- ing and connection to nature while they’re enjoying drinks with friends. To that end, we’re working closely with architecture and design teams to incorporate more plazas and outdoor dining and entertainment spaces into developments. Guests at Four Mile District, for example, will be able to enjoy the light forest from one of the plazas or from the elevated rooftop patio experience. At Superior Town Center, the plaza is activated by sur- rounding ground-floor retail, but visi- tors can also enjoy a pint in the beer garden in the summer or cozy up with a cup of cocoa by the fire pits in the winter. While expectations from consumers for the retail experience have never been higher, that does not have to mean adding every single bell and whistle into a development. Ultimate- ly, a great public realm design will cap- ture what is unique about a particular place and use that identity to create compelling moments of joy that will keep people in the neighborhood lon- ger and leave them eager to return. s Public realm design defines retail character Bill Vitek, PLA, FASLA Principal, Dig Studio Brandon Sobiech, PLA, ASLA Principal and founder, Dig Studio 16th Street Mall will be activated day and night. Glendale Entertainment District will embrace the creek.