I recently attended our client’s, Steiner + Associates, grand-opening ceremony for Liberty Center, a $350 million mixed-use development featuring, shopping, dining, luxury residential apartments, offices, a state-of-the-art movie theater and a new to market AC Hotel by Marriott located in the middle of the growing Cincinnati-Dayton metroplex along Interstate 75.
As I toured Liberty Center, the features that I thought that made this development stand out from competing suburban shopping centers were the attention and focus to making it a community-centered destination. It’s a place where people would want to gather and linger rather than just making a transaction. And being more than just a place where shopping transactions are made is important with the ever-growing competition from online shopping forums as well as changing consumer tastes. The inclusion of squares, parks, rooftop gardens, community center, a living room area in the Foundry building, public art and a multi-denominational chapel all contribute to creating an urban town center rather than just a suburban mall. In fact, the public sentiment is that Liberty Center was a “downtown that fell from the sky” in Liberty Township. Though these features do not directly contribute to the profitability or bottom-line of Liberty Center’s merchants and businesses, there is an indirect benefit. People will want to visit, and stay, for a variety of reasons and they’ll be able to do so by accomplishing multiple tasks or events with a trip to Liberty Center. This makes a visit more convenient, enjoyable and compelling. And thus, a community that will support the center’s businesses will be formed.
Though the idea of designing shopping centers as town squares is not a new concept, it is becoming a necessity to make centers, particularly those in suburban locations, more relevant to today’s shopper. The convenience of online shopping and the preference of the millennial and empty nester demographics to have walkable and inviting places to live, work and play has been driving demand for design concepts that respond to these needs for convenience and a sense of place.
I think there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from utilizing these design concepts in mixed-use developments to create a competitive advantage and other developers will certainly be taking cues from Liberty Center as future centers are being designed and planned.