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Open Space: The Invisible Anchor

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We had a great time at the Entertainment Experience Evolution last month, meeting leaders in retail from around the country. I was honored to moderate a panel entitled “Open Space: The Invisible Anchor.” My expert panelists included Wick Zimmerman from Outside The Lines, Sean Slater, principal architect at Retail Design Collaborative; Daniel Burgner from Burgner Experiential, and developers Steve Graham from Stellar Development and Jose Antonio Perez from Agave Holdings.

Amazing insight was gained on the ways retail developers are using open space –  as an entertainment area, a draw for guests and as means to extend visitors’ time on the property (which has been shown to have a direct correlation to increased spend).

In addition, people are innately attracted to water and fire- We can’t seem to get away from the campfire, can we? This primal attraction to the elements is reflected in multiple water features being featured at new as well as “repurposed” developments across the country and around the world. Shows and attractions involving fountains and firepits are continuing to expand and shall do so for years to come.

As far as architecture, Sean brought up the blurring of lines between retail, recreation and workplace areas. Passive activities like people-watching and relaxing are intermixed with programmed activities like group yoga or individual co-working and require special attention in order to make the spaces feel used and useful, but never vacant and meaningless.  The size of the space should fit the purpose and be reflective of the activities planned there so it never looks empty.

Dan Burgner showed examples of advertising opportunities through kiosks and interactive directories. These can take selfies, and provide social media experiences and mentions, as well as run gaming apps.  Not only can these facilitate wayfinding and information for the guests, but also they provide advertising revenues to the developer, added benefit to the tenants and provide customer analytics about the retail destination centers. Dan also suggested taking old ideas and refreshing them, thereby making them appealing to your guests over and over again. Suggestions included events and seasonal activities (Skating, trails and food and drink festivals from around the world). He did note that you must match the right advertiser to the audience, and choose programs and features that resonate with the center’s brand.

The panel wrapped up with great examples of centers (Grandscape by Stellar Development and The Plaza from Agave Holdings) that are walking the walk; after much learning and sometimes trial and error, developers are learning how to monetize open space and create places where people don’t just want to go, but they want to be immersed in and experience.

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