Mining the local culture

When FRCH was hired as a consultant for Discover Mills in Gwinnett County, Ga., the firm headed to the Peach State. Upon arrival, they broke up into teams and scoped out the cities' offerings — entertainment, sports, outdoor life, arts, history, and food — to get a grasp of what makes the area tick.

Such an approach isn't unusual for Cincinnati-based FRCH. The firm's retail design capabilities include the design and renovation of regional malls, urban town centers, lifestyle centers, and community and power centers, as well as environmental graphic design, graphic communications and brand consulting. Brett A.J. Kratzer, FRCH's senior VP/managing principal of architecture, believes such a rich blend of disciplines differentiates the firm from others. “We create a non-traditional perspective on how we approach projects.”

At Discover Mills, for instance, an outdoor lifestyle area responds to locals' interest in sports and outdoor activities. Another section celebrates the importance high school sports plays in small Georgia towns. “It's not only entertaining and creates a visual character that defines that area of the mall, but it's also a wayfinding tool for visitors, and it helps them differentiate where they are in the center,” says Michael L. Beeghly, senior VP/design principal, environmental graphic design. “As people are bombarded with more information, their attentions spans shorten. Especially when trying to capture the fickle Gen Y generation, whose interests change as they grow up,” notes Beeghly. “With a dramatic shift in who is spending money, that means we have to be prepared to change every 12 to 18 months, too,” adds Kratzer.

Grabbing visitors' attention and creating a personality for retail centers comprises a great deal of FRCH's work, especially in its renovation projects. “Some projects want to de-mall and create unique lifestyle centers,” says Kratzer, “The challenge is: How do you put a new competitive place personality or character onto a center — that may have been there 25 years — to gain a competitive edge and lure new tenants?”

In one of FRCH's current projects, the firm is renovating an urban mall, Yakima Regional Mall, in downtown Yakima, Wash. A new center a few miles away has lured away the mall's anchor department stores and some of the smaller retailers are taking off. The renovation involves turning the center inside out. Rather than having a totally indoor-focused mall, the new center, to be renamed City Place at Yakima, will become a hybrid — an open-air plaza with a two-level interior plaza. The design will eliminate the blank walls along the main street. Instead, storefronts of big box retailers will animate the outside, which in turn will provide some vitality on the street. The introduction of new restaurants are expected to transform City Place into a lively center for 12 to 15 hours of the day. “People want to be around people, and want to have a place to go to commune and engage with others. The whole point is to create this new district that will revitalize the city and create a longer period of visitation,” says Kratzer.