although Shakespeare could not have predicted the rise of urban entertainment centers in the late 20th century, he did know a bit about human nature and entertainment. He knew that in life, as on a stage, people enjoy interacting with others and participating in their environment.
Easton Town Center developers, Columbus, Ohio-based Steiner + Associates and New York-based The Georgetown Co., have created this kind of place: where people can eat, shop, stroll, be amused or simply enjoy the earthy Midwestern lifestyle. The 750,000 sq. ft. development in the northeast quadrant of Columbus opened June 30.
"The town center is an overall vision we have of creating places where people come spend their leisure time," says Yaromir Steiner, president of Steiner + Associates.
Steiner was chosen by The Georgetown Co. and Columbus-based The Limited Inc. to give Easton - a 1,200-acre mixed-use development - a town square. While the center combines restaurants, shopping and entertainment, Steiner prefers to call it a "leisure-time destination" rather than an entertainment center.
"Actually, it's exactly the same thing (as an entertainment center)," Steiner says. "I just don't like the word 'entertainment.' I feel that entertainment has a dynamic piece to it. It makes you feel you have to have a roller coaster. I like things to be more low key. I believe that a leisure-time destination can be on the seaside, or it can be a boardwalk along a quiet lake with a couple of restaurants."
Others involved in the project call it the "heart and soul" of Easton. Expected to include about 5 million sq. ft. of office space, 1,000 to 1,500 residential units, and more than 3 million sq. ft. of retail, Easton will likely have at least 40,000 people either living or working on the site, according to Marshall Rose, chairman of The Georgetown Co., co-owner and co-developer of Easton Town Center and all of Easton. Along with The Georgetown Co. and Steiner + Associates, The Limited and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger also have part ownership of the town center.
"We felt that (Easton) needed a heart and soul, the way a downtown had a civic place that you gravitated to, with a romantic, nostalgic feeling," Rose says. "The town center is right in the center of this project. It is the nucleus for the entire community."
Getting the right feeling for Easton Town Center required architects to design a setting, much like the set of a play, reminiscent of past eras. Architect John Clark of Baltimore-based Development Design Group Inc. refers to the project as experiential architecture.
"I wanted it to be as picturesque as possible, without being too Disneyish," Clark says. "It's a little bit of a stage set. The shoppers are in their own way kind of actors on a stage there. But I wanted it to feel real, to be evocative of bygone eras."
Whether referred to as the heart and soul, a stage set or a leisure-time destination, the fact remains that Easton Town Center is the central gathering place for Easton. In order to fulfill the needs of the Easton community, as well as the needs of Columbus, the developer chose a diverse mix of tenants.
the leasing plan for Easton Town Center was to include one-third retail, one-third restaurants and one-third entertainment, according to Jeff Zeigler, senior vice president of leasing for Steiner + Associates. The other key factor for the center, he says, was attracting tenants new to the marketplace. As it turns out, more than half the tenants are new to Columbus.
With 96% of the center currently leased and 92% currently open, Easton Town Center boasts retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Virgin Megastore, Barnes & Noble, J Crew, AnnTaylor, Banana Republic, Foot Locker, Pottery Barn, Steve Madden Shoes and Restoration Hardware. Among the center's 19 food venues - ranging from quick-serve selections to upscale restaurants - are The Cheesecake Factory, Chipotle Mexican Grille, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Mozart's Cafe, Hama Sushi and Brio Tuscan Grille.
"We think you have to create a critical mass of restaurants in order to enlarge your market share appeal," Zeigler says. "We really scrutinize the menu of each restaurant to make sure we don't have a lot of overlap among the restaurants."
While the ultimate goal of Easton Town Center is not so much to keep people entertained as to make sure they have fun, entertainment is a significant aspect. The project includes GameWorks; Planet Movies by AMC, a collaboration between Planet Hollywood and AMC Theatres; Jeepers!; Funny Bone Comedy Club; 'Round Midnight Jazz Club; and Shadowbox Cabaret, a live show that changes every 30 to 60 days.
Steiner's intention was not only to have entertainment, Zeigler says, but also to make sure there was live entertainment. The project has a park in the center, where summer and fall concert series take place. In addition, the streets are animated with performers, jugglers and mimes. Steiner also encourages all of the restaurants to offer outdoor seating, to energize the sidewalks and lend an urban feel.
The setup of the town center helps tenants like The Cheesecake Factory to retain customers. Ernest Sannin, general manager of The Cheesecake Factory at Easton, says that at one point, the wait for seating was three and a half hours. In a city like Chicago, he says, customers probably would not have waited that long. But at Easton, where customers can carry beepers and engage in other activities, the guests waited.
At 10,700 sq. ft., The Cheesecake Factory at Easton is one level, unlike some Cheesecake Factories in larger markets. "Had the company known (the restaurant would draw such crowds), we would have gone into a second level," Sannin says. "This store was our 30th unit in the U.S., and the opening broke all the records of our previous openings."
While certain elements of Easton Town Center mimic other entertainment centers, it differs in its wider range of targeted customers, Zeigler says. "We appeal to the young family with Jeepers!, we appeal to a more urban customer with Shadowbox Cabaret, we appeal to a movie theater crowd, we appeal to a live music crowd - and GameWorks has its own appeal."
But what really distinguishes Easton Town Center from other centers, Steiner says, is that people go there not only to shop but also to have fun.
easton Town Center is not a city district, but it is similar in that it offers a variety of experiences, whether shopping, dining, going to the movies or seeing a show. Many aspects of the project aim to get people interacting with their environment, as they would in an urban area.
For example, the streets at Easton Town Center are drivable, with metered parking. The cars on the streets create more of a downtown feel for the center. The parking also serves the purpose of slowing down the traffic that comes through, says Design Group's Clark.
"What I wanted to do was create a neo-traditional town plan like so many of the small towns in America from bygone days," Clark says. "I had an image of a solid, safe, good place to raise your family."
The architecture of Easton Town Center is basically split into two areas: the open-air town square, and the indoor train station building. The outdoor area has a park in the center, with the retailers facing the square. At one end of the square sits the European train station building, which contains Planet Movies, GameWorks, restaurants and retail stores. The building has high ceilings made of glass to let in natural light.
Clark modeled the retail in the town square after icons of past eras: a cinema, a library, a police station, a train station and a school. For instance, the storefront of Pottery Barn has an art deco movie house facade. Barnes & Noble looks like the town library, and the Life Time Fitness gym is designed to resemble a school. The brick and other architectural details vary from building to building, to make it appear that they were built over time - from the late 1800s to the early 1940s - by different architects.
The scale of the town center was carefully planned to make sure the environment would be small enough to create a sense of intimacy, yet large enough to accommodate art shows, farmer's markets, concerts and other events. There is a pop fountain in the park where children can play or cool off.
While the square - containing retailers such as AnnTaylor, Talbots and Smith & Hawken - is geared more toward an older customer, the main building is aimed at the younger customer. With covered parking garages on both the east and west sides of the building, retailers in this area include Foot Locker, The Buckle and Victoria's Secret. Many of the entertainment tenants, including Jeepers!, The Official All-Star Cafe and GameWorks, are also in this building. The building was created to be large enough, and with enough natural lighting, that events could be moved indoors in case of bad weather, Clark says.
To the north of the train station building, Steiner + Associates is currently developing the Fashion District for Easton, also an open-air center. The project will include Nordstrom as well as other fashion, family and children's shops. The center is expected to contain 600,000 to 700,000 sq. ft. and will open in fall 2001.
While the future success of Easton Town Center remains to be seen, thus far it has received a standing ovation. The center's retailers and developers agree that its opening surpassed their expectations. One of the initial uncertainties was that the northeast quadrant is the weaker part of Columbus, Steiner says.
"Lots of people were skeptical," he says. "But I knew in my heart that despite (the location) we would have a decent project."