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'Lifestyle' centres give a new lease to malls Add to ...

Mall developers in North America are learning what shoppers want -- and don't want.

Consumers no longer want to drive to vast, enclosed malls with ubiquitous anchors. They don't want to trek along confusing layouts searching for a product they've already scoped out on the Internet.

What people want today is easy access to retailers, a distinctive destination and a place to linger, whether it is over a latte, lunch or a beer, says Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at the J.C. Williams Group, a Toronto-based retail consultancy.

They are called "lifestyle" malls, and Canada's first, the Village at Park Royal in West Vancouver, is making its developer very happy. (More than 130 of the centres have been built in the United States, according to the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers.)

Village at Park Royal, which opened in September, 2004, has the feel of a country town. Shoppers stroll along wide sidewalks, past benches and sculptures and such specialty retailers as Lululemon Athletica, Kiss & Makeup and Danier Leather.

The centre, which was built as an expansion to an existing enclosed mall, is small, at only 238,000 square feet, with West Coast-style architecture and a water feature in the centre where children play and adults sit at outdoor cafes.

Now, as the Village heads into its second holiday shopping season, sales are on target.

"The exciting thing for us is if you compare the lifestyle shopping centre numbers to a typical open-air shopping centre in Canada on the sales per square foot, this project is probably doing twice the numbers," says Rick Amantea, vice-president of Park Royal Shopping Centre, which includes the original mall and the lifestyle addition.

It is even bringing additional business to the existing mall, Mr. Amantea says.

"Sometimes you get concerned when you expand or build another property that you are going to cannibalize some of your existing business, but that has not been the case," he said. "We have actually seen our existing business as a whole grow in the existing shopping centre by about a 3- or 4-per-cent margin."

The lifestyle addition also has been a draw for customers from afar, with 25 per cent of visitors coming from outside the primary trade area, compared with 7 per cent for the enclosed mall, Mr. Amantea says.

The Village, which cost $30-million to build, not including land, is expected to add more than $120-million in its first year of operation to Park Royal's revenue, Mr. Amantea says.

Depending on the architectural design, a lifestyle centre costs about 25 per cent less to build than an enclosed mall, Mr. Amantea says. And, largely because of skyrocketing air-conditioning and heating bills, maintenance costs for retailers run about a third lower than those for an enclosed mall.

"Operating costs, common-area maintenance and taxes are typically much less in an open-air project then they would be in an enclosed mall because you don't have interior requirements such as janitorial, maintenance and repair," Mr. Amantea says. "It's a much simpler property to clean and maintain."

Unlike a "power" shopping centre, which is also open air, a lifestyle mall relies less on so-called "big-box" stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco, which sell on price, and more on restaurants, cafés and one-off retailers.

Among the anchors at the Village are an urban-concept Home Depot, Home Sense, Old Navy and Whole Foods Market.

Typically, no two lifestyle centres are alike, says Blake Hudema, president of Hudema Consulting Group in Vancouver.

"They have a little bit different merchandising mix, sensitivity to regional markets, to regional architecture," he says. They also are smaller and more pedestrian friendly.

In Toronto, Cadillac Fairview Corp. is considering building a lifestyle addition to the Don Mills Centre. In Barrie, Ont., North American Corp. of Markham, Ont., wants to construct a $200-million mixed-use development called Park Place that would have a lifestyle-centre component.

And in Calgary, Heritage Partners LP is building Deerfoot Meadows, a two-million-square-foot-plus centre of which about one-quarter will be a lifestyle centre.

Deerfoot Meadows is a 360-acre project -- with such anchors as IKEA, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club -- that, when completed in the summer of 2007, is projected to bring in $1.5-billion in annual sales, says Ken Mariash, the managing partner of Heritage Partners.

"The new anchors now are the big boxes, and the new way of building is to have big boxes that generate 10 to 20 million people a year," Mr. Mariash says.

Deerfoot, which expects to draw on a population base of one million people from Saskatchewan and British Columbia, projects about 30 million visits a year.

How successful will lifestyle centres be in Canada? Most cities might not have what it takes, experts say.

More of the centres will indeed be built, says Ms. Atkinson of J.C. Williams Group, but their numbers will be limited.

Even with the comparatively lower costs and their appeal to retailers and customers, lifestyle centres won't share the success they have south of the border, and, it's not because of the weather -- lifestyle malls in cold U.S. climes have been quite successful.

Ms. Atkinson says it's more likely that Canadians don't make enough money to support them. "One of the profiles of a successful lifestyle centre development is high incomes," she says.

Lifestyle malls need a densely populated, affluent area with at least 10 acres of land available for building, says Brent Sawchyn, the principal and senior vice-president of development for Vancouver-based Anthem Properties, which owns 16 shopping centres in British Columbia and Alberta.

"It's very hard in Canada to find those pockets of population with that kind of affluence that [also have]some land available," he says. "We don't have the same population, and we don't have the same affluence and disposable income, that you see in the States."

Mr. Hudema says Canada will likely see lifestyle-mall hybrids instead.

"I think what you'll see in Canada is commercial clusters in neighbourhoods that call themselves lifestyle centres -- hopefully that provide better pedestrian access and a less harried pace -- that promote restaurants and leisure shopping," he says.

"But that's challenging in Canada because: A. We don't have a lot of time, and B. We don't have a lot of money.

"It's always a challenging issue in Canada to keep people in shopping centres."

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