BOSTON-Lifestyle centers continue to evolve and are getting harder to define, said speakers yesterday at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Research Conference here at the Park Plaza hotel. Initially, the centers were defined by ICSC as being affluent open-air centers with 150,000 to 500,000 sf of space and possibly one small department store anchor.

Mark Thompson, formerly director of research for the Rouse Co., who is now with General Growth Companies (General Growth closed on its acquisition of Rouse earlier this month.), used one project his company is developing as an example of lifestyle centers’ evolution. The Shops at La Cantera, in San Antonio, will not only have a total of 1.3 million sf when it opens next September, but Dillard’s, Foley’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom department stores as anchors.

“I don’t think there’s an all-encompassing term that’s going to define all of the variations,” said Jon Meyer, a partner at Columbus, OH-based lifestyle development firm Stanbery Development. In contrast to Chicago-based General Growth’s projects, the three lifestyle centers Stanbery has opened are all under 200,000 sf.

Even Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the largest North American mall owner, with about 300 centers, is building open-air projects, parts of which resemble lifestyle centers. Thomas Schneider, the company’s EVP of development, pointed out that 38 lifestyles are expected to open this year, and 48 more are planned for next year, though only a handful of new malls will come online during that time.

This year Simon opened Clay Terrace, a 570,000-sf lifestyle development in Carmel, IN, outside of Indianapolis. But lifestyle centers will not soon become consumers’ only shopping choice, Schneider said. “Is the regional mall dead? We don’t think so,” he said. “We think the lifestyle centers and the malls can co-exist.”

In a separate panel discussion, speakers discussed development opportunities in urban areas. “The suburban markets are saturated,” said Deb Connelly, principal at the Medina, MN-based Research Shop. “Urban locations are the next entity where opportunity is going to come from.”

Urban markets have less of a national retail presence and have a tough barrier to entry because they are more difficult areas in which to develop projects, said Marsha Holland, principal at Chicago-based Realty Development Research. “If you’re the first person in, you’ve got a really good market,” she said.

And some developers are creating their own high-density urban areas. The speakers pointed to Bay Street, a 400,000-sf urban village in Emeryville, CA, in the Bay area, which was built by Madison Marquette. The firm is currently constructing 350 apartments and condos above the center’s retail and is considering the addition of a hotel or a department store.

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