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What’s a town center and why is it so popular? Inside King of Prussia’s ‘live, work, play’ model

July 14, 2017

Source, PennLive.com, Julia Hatmaker

Live. Work. Play.

That’s the motto of a town center, a newer kind of shopping experience. These spaces combine retail with restaurants and are set up as mini communities, complete with public green spaces. The goal of a town center is for one to never have to leave, which is why they’re often located around apartments, office buildings and medical centers.

Town centers and mix-use spaces are popping up all over the state and country. In Pennsylvania, there’s the Hershey Towne Square and Hershey West End, both in various stages of early development. Lancaster’s 101NQ, slated to open in 2019, is another. They’re not necessarily new either. Near Pittsburgh, Southpointe Town Center in Cecil Township opened in 2014.

Perhaps the latest is the Philadelphia-area King of Prussia Town Center in Upper Merion Township, which opened in 2016. For those curious about the town center model, it’s a good one to look at.

Located in the Village at Valley Forge, it has multiple apartment complexes as neighbors. Also part of the giant 122-acre mixed-use space is Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Specialty Care & Surgery.

The King of Prussia Town Center itself has a mix of restaurants, retail stores and salons as well as a gym (LA Fitness) and a grocery store (Wegmans).

It is still a work-in-progress, as the leasing group in charge of it, CBRE, tries to find the perfect retailers to claim its remaining open spaces.

It’s not a decision they take lighty.

The town center itself is like a puzzle, as the leasing agents try and figure out the right combination and placement of stores.

For example, at the King of Prussia Town Center Duck Donuts has a spot across the street from one of the main public gathering spots near several large restaurants

“That space, we had always planned for it to be some sort of sweets, confectionary store to play off people hanging out here before or after meals,” explained Adam Kohler, executive vice president for CBRE.

The idea was that people would grab a donut, chill out at the pavilion and then walk around to explore more of the stores. It’s about making areas active spaces and playing off of them.

It’s not the usual way of thinking.

“In a lot of the shopping centers we work on, you fill space — you just fill space,” Kohler said. “Here, it’s really about being far more patient, saying no to a lot of people that have nice businesses, but it’s just not the right fit.”

Part of being the right fit is about being special, a destination in and of itself.

“The tenants we have here are unique,” Kohler said.  “They’re not the kind of tenants who roll out hundreds of stores.”

“I think a lot of the draw to this was a lot of the uniqueness. The company that developed this from the ground up, the architecture, the different building materials and the feel of this is just really unusual even for an open air center,” Kohler said. “It’s very unique in how it presents itself.”

 

It comes into play with choosing the restaurants as well.

“Restaurants have really become an anchor for a lot of retail projects and putting together a unique collection is actually key to creating a destination,” said Mallory Scaccetti an associate with CBRE. “We like to think we’ve created a dining destination within the market here by steering clear of the chains that are every ten miles down the road and choosing these concepts that will only have one, maybe two at the most in the entire market.”

Another key part of any town center is the public space. The pavilion at the King of Prussia Town Center is the home of outdoor concerts, yoga sessions and movie screenings. It’s the heart of the town center, situated on its Main Street and surrounded by restaurants and their patio dining spaces.

That word unique gets mentioned a lot when talking to Kohler about King of Prussia Town Center and could very well be the theme of the center itself.

That public space helps make the town center an experience, not just a shopping stop. That’s what the public want, according to Kohler.

“The consumer, the public is just begging for this kind of social and experiential opportunity,” he said.

He isn’t alone in that assessment. Selling an experience has been the goal for King of Prussia Mall for years and it’s one of the reasons for its continued success in a country where malls are on the decline, according to David Contis, president of Simon Malls, which owns King of Prussia Mall.

It’s all about offering the consumer a reason to come shop, rather than just do so on the internet.

“So many retailers now and landlords have to consider how is the internet going to impact my shopping center or my tenants in my shopping center,” Kohler said “The internet doesn’t offer experience. It offers quick results and delivery. So retailers that in the past never had to focus on experience now have to ask ‘Why is somebody going to come to my store as compared to sit at my computer and buy the product?'”

That’s where restaurants come in and other unique concepts. Muse Paint Bar is one of those stores that offers an experience. It’s concept is to have customers come in, paint, drink wine and eat light fare. “That’s something you can’t do on the internet,” said Mallory Scaccetti, an associate with CBRE and one of the leasing agents for King of Prussia Town Center.

“Even Nordstrom Rack — it’s all about the treasure hunt and you can’t always do that on the Internet,” she said.

Not every business is a good fit because of that, which means turning down potential leasees.

“We have space available, we could have it leased tomorrow if we were willing to lease to any tenant or retailer out there,” Scaccetti said. “We believe strongly that the merchandising is critical for the future success of this project. So, we’re being selective with the tenants that are going to fill the remaining spaces. We’re looking more for boutiquey type concepts, a lot of local tenants, possibly regional.”

A lot of that selectiveness is due to the fact that the town center resides in the shadow of King of Prussia Mall, which is minutes away.

“They have every single national apparel, accessories, home furnishing store out there,” Scaccetti said. “We’re not looking to compete with that, we’re looking to complement it.”

“We feel like we’ve done a good job of complementing it to date with the restaurant collection and the element of everyday needs: the Wegmans, your LA Fitness, Nordstrom Rack, Ulta, REI, PNC Bank, Starbucks,” Scaccetti said. “We’re serving the community and also the region with the mix of everyday needs and also dining.”

King of Prussia Town Center is located at 155 Village Drive in Upper Merion Township. For more information visit kingofprussia-towncenter.com.

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