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SAN DIEGO-The US can take much of the credit for developing the shopping center as a retail venue, but US firms are now learning a thing or two from projects around the world as other countries introduce innovations not tried here, according to panelists Tuesday at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Fall Conference and Trade Exposition. The panel, titled “Boundaries Broken: Global Best Practices,” focused on how projects in other countries are breaking the boundaries of shopping center design by incorporating uses like indoor ski slopes and a host of other attractions. Panel moderator Stanley Eichelbaum, president of Cincinnati-based Marketing Developments Inc., pointed out that mixed use developments, life-style centers and a number of the popular concepts now being developed at US centers “were all in use in other countries before they came to the US.” Eichelbaum cited a number of unconventional anchors and tenants that shopping center developers have introduced around the world, including the ski slope in Dubai, a 140-doctor clinic at a South American Center and other unconventional tenants. A recurring theme of the panelists was “breaking boundaries,” which was also the theme of the ICSC conference this year. If there is a height boundary for shopping centers, Langham Place Mall in Hong Kong surely pushes it with its 15-floor-high retail development. Carol Angelosanto, CEO of Marketing Warehouse in Sydney, Australia explained that the island of Hong Kong’s density calls for vertical development, hence the high-rise shopping. Angelosanto noted that rents vary little from floor to floor over the 15 stories. The indoor ski slope is due to open in November at the Mall of the Emirates, according to panelist Phil McArthur, director of leasing for the 1.3-million-sf Dubai Festival City in Dubai, one of a number of Middle Eastern countries where shopping center development is much more advanced than many Americans might realize, McArthur said. He listed projects of two million and three million sf that are either under way or in the works, with the developers planning a range of uses, including amusement parks that expand the boundaries of what is considered a shopping center.Panelist Marcos Baptista Carvalho, director of Ancar S.A. in Rio de Janiero, related how his company invented a number of new approaches and new uses in converting a former factory into a mixed-use shopping district called Nova America that features an office tower, a university, 26 weekly factory auto fairs every year and a variety of programs designed to establish a rapport with the nearby community. Nova America’s developers have created the center with an overriding theme in mind: “We had to be a district, not a mall,” Carvalho said, explaining that the project competes with a one-million-sf mall that is only a mile away. Only 50% of the center’s revenue derives from retail rents, according to Carvalho, who explained that the revenue from the auto fairs, parking and other events throughout the year provide other income streams. The auto fairs in particular boost the center’s image because the automakers advertise heavily, and the fairs also bring in an average of about 8,000 customers on the weekends when they’re scheduled. Another boost to the customer base is a 6,000-student university that rents space at the center, with the 6,000 students providing a big increase in the daily traffic. The developments described by the panelists illustrate that “The quality of these projects is equal to or better than what you’re seeing in America today,” observed panelist Ronald Altoon, principal with Altoon + Porter Architects of Los Angeles. Altoon emphasized the importance of designing centers that fit into their geographic and social context, saying, “It’s not just maxing out the site that counts, it’s maxing out the sensitivity to the context.” Despite the era of change that these international centers and US shopping center developments represent, moderator Eichelbaum reminded the audience that this is not the first time the industry and the society in which it exists have undergone a period of change. Eichelbaum referred to the 1970 best-selling book “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler, in which Toffler talked of “an abrupt collision with the future” and “incessant demand for change.” Those same phrases ring true for the shopping center industry today, Eichelbaum said.

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