The trend toward mixed-use neighborhood-style retail centers requires mall developers to rethink the concept of huge, factory-like big stores surrounded by oceans of asphalt parking lots. Increasingly, consumers want a less alienating experience. They want to stroll through their malls as they would through a town square, stopping for a coffee, chatting with friends, and meandering through a mixture of interesting stores that offers more of a community atmosphere, with easier parking and more convenient locations. Consumers want a shopping center that is part of the fabric of their community, with a mix of big box stores, mom-and-pop retailers, cafés, boutiques and specialty stores. They want warm, welcoming places that create an anticipation of a pleasurable shopping and social experience. We've isolated five trends in design, architecture and site development that have been used in projects we've worked on throughout Florida. They should help create a friendlier experience for shoppers and hence, a more lucrative experience for retailers.

Trend No. 1: Maximizing signage and creating safe and pleasing walks from parking to shops.

Developers are incorporating visually pleasing and safety-oriented design elements, like appropriate lighting fixtures and levels in parking areas, eliminating parking bumpers (which lessens “trip and fall” liability concerns), and adding landscaped walkways between parking rows, often featuring small seating areas or water features.

Heritage Square is a 45,000-square-foot mixed-use retail and office center located in the Pompano Beach redevelopment area, a corridor along U.S. 1 in southeast Florida that's close to residential neighborhoods where economic development is flourishing. The $2 million-plus project transformed the 1953 Mediterranean-style building and reworked the entire site. Now shoppers enter the plaza by driving under an arched, covered walkway to courtyard parking. A brightened color scheme and architectural elements including pop-ups and a second-story balcony running the length of the building complete the site's façade and give retailers good visibility.

Trend No. 2: Enhancing the walking experience between big box retailers.

Big box retailers are moving out of the traditional mall and into the local community. Neighborhood centers that continue consumers' positive experience as they walk between big box stores have created an enjoyable “strolling” atmosphere, which encourages more traffic past both big and small retailers.

Wide, covered walkways maximize space and facilitate pedestrian flow while minimizing harsh linear appearances. To enhance the strolling experience, walkways are now often complemented by fountains and small pools of water that reflect light and create movement, plus disciplined landscaping and planted gardens that define walking paths, create pleasing views, and lessen irrigation needs.

At the Fountains of Miramar, a neighborhood center located near residential communities in Miramar, we are planning such design elements as barrel-tile roofing, covered archways and walkways, architectural cornices, towers, and pastel colors. The center will also include lush landscaping, water features and comfortable seating areas, encouraging the flow of traffic between national soft goods and office-supply retailers and a variety of upscale restaurants and specialty stores.

Trend No. 3: Making centers more accessible and relevant to surrounding communities.

Developers are moving beyond mere shopping centers and focusing on retail centers that also meet customers' lifestyle needs. A key component of these centers is a central, highly visible location with easy ingress and egress. The Shoppes at Silver Isles in Miramar, a $2.88 million, single-level, 30,000-square-foot upscale neighborhood retail center near the busy I-75 corridor, incorporates distinctive visual elements like vertical and horizontal plane changes, a clock tower and pedestrian walkways. Residents in an adjoining 322-home gated community enter the center by walking, riding a bicycle or driving through a landscaped courtyard. The Shoppes at Silver Isles offers the tenants that neighbors want, including Latin gourmet markets and restaurants, national retailers like CVS/Eckerd's, and neighborhood retailers, such as a dentist, nail salon, florist and optical shop.

Trend No. 4: Using color to maximizes exposure while minimizing construction costs.

The bold use of color breaks away from the “strip mall” mentality to create sensory stimulation. Where color is replacing traditional neutral tones that tended to make sites fade into the background, the challenge can be in marrying the color trend with the needs and requirements of tenants.

New Tampa Center, located in a growing suburb near Tampa, boasts a striking design using vibrant colors that illustrate the developer's vision of an exciting place where people meet, mingle and shop. Since the center was 100 percent leased prior to construction, the developer had to meet retailers' demands for colors that would not clash with their trade dress, signage or logos. The result is a lively center featuring curved and squared archways adorned in bright paint.

Bold colors also helped revitalize Pine Trail Square in Palm Beach County. We used coordinated blue, coral, magenta and yellow tones to highlight key architectural features, like columns, pediments and skyline elements, and to frame signage areas. The colors also define individual tenants by creating distinct identities while keeping an exciting, unified look. Plantation Promenade in Plantation is set back from the road and has heavy landscaping with mature trees. Bold colors, including gold and umber, have established a presence for the site's buildings and increased tenants' visibility.

Trend No. 5: Planning for the optimum ratio of big box to small scale in line retail.

A decade ago, the optimal mix was 60 percent — 75 percent small scale, versus 25 percent to 40 percent big box retailers. As big box retailers provide the products and services formerly offered only by small specialty shops, the optimal mix is now reversed. So, attracting the right big box retailers is essential for a center's success.

Too many big box retailers at each center can make traveling between stores inconvenient and unappealing to pedestrians. Spacing big box retailers out, rather than placing them next to each other, also makes a retail center more appealing to big box stores because it provides distinct identities and allows for skyline elements. Mixing in small-scale retailers like Office Depot, Pier 1 Imports, Off Main and Pet Supermarket, which often feature interesting window displays, as well as cafés, specialty shops and local mom-and-pop retailers, creates a fun and interesting walk between big box retailers and encourages pedestrian traffic.

Moreover, the right mix generates income for developers through higher-occupancy rates and rents. If the right mix isn't achieved, developers may have to invest more money to make the walk between the big box and smaller retailers interesting enough to keep shoppers on-site for longer periods of time.

Adapting these five trends to local codes and community standards will help ensure that neighborhood retail centers cater to customers' tastes.

DESIGN

WILLIAM J. GALLO, AIA is president and founding principal of Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Gallo Architects & Development Consultants, a $40 million architectural design and development firm. Many of his companies are retail center developers and management firms.