Main Street makes a comeback

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. They're the traditional tenants that populate memories of Main Street USA. The concept is being re-tooled today in a way that combines urban conveniences and a Main Street feel with contemporary retailers. “People are looking for something fresh and different — not the traditional mall. We're offering something unique,” says James Heller, president of KA Inc. Architecture, Cleveland.

KA began as a one-man show with founder Keeva Keskt in 1960. Within a few years of its founding, the firm hooked up with developer Ed DeBartolo Sr. and then Forest City Enterprises, who hired KA to design two major projects. These commissions launched the firm. “In the early 1970s, we really started to explode into regional and enclosed malls in the Midwest and community center work,” recalls Heller.

Today, retail work continues to be a mainstay of the firm, with 75% of its billings flowing from such projects. “With our understanding of retailing and tenants and what developers need, we've been able to adapt as time has progressed and the industry has matured,” says Heller. In the last few years, KA has begun work on Main Street lifestyle centers for a variety of developers across the country. Some are ground-up constructions, others infill projects. What they share is their customer friendliness, a sense of place, and a very contextual architecture that fits the site's history and climate.

Legacy Place, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., for instance, takes on a village aesthetic by incorporating buildings, towers and covered arcades. The 400,000-sq.-ft. center combines ground-floor retail with approximately 69,000 sq. ft. of office space above. Among the buildings are outdoor eating areas and gathering spots, as well as a large fountain and entertainment section. KA's design taps the local architectural flavor through a rich color palette, stucco walls and tiled roofs.

One of KA's infill projects is University Square, University Heights, Ohio. The more than 600,000 sq. ft. of retail will include a two-story Kaufmann's department store, a two-level Target and a 58,000-sq.-ft. Tops food store. In addition, the project will have a big box, close to 213,000 sq. ft. of smaller stores and 10,000 sq. ft. of restaurant space. Heller has high hopes for the center. “It will stimulate the economy and begin to create a rebirth of activity and cause a chain reaction for new and renovated retail and the potential for new housing.”

The design takes its ideas from historic areas of downtown Cleveland and the nearby architecture of John Carroll University and incorporates brick, stone, colors, and window treatments that recall some of the buildings of yesteryear. The center is oriented to the street so the scale, pedestrian walkways, landscaping, and lighting all recall a mini downtown, but in a suburban environment.

“People want to bring neighborhoods back,” says Heller. “For retailers, we're trying to address all the issues that will entice customers and make it consumer-friendly.”