by Caillin Howard
Shopping Centre News
31 May 2014
pp. 34-35

article

Attitudes to the design of retail in central business districts (CBDs) are vastly different to their suburban counterparts.

At Hames Sharley, we are working on many CBD centres including the Myer centres in Adelaide and Brisbane, Carillon City Perth, the Broadway Centre in Sydney, and Enex100 in Perth, which opened in 2009 with 40,000sqm of office space, and three levels of retail.

CBD retail centres are no longer simply shopping destinations or, at least, they are not solely destinations. That’s because suburban shopping centres, with their expanse of parking and depth of retail offer, have become the local destination of choice.

CBD retail centres have had to evolve.Our research shows that CBD centres locally and abroad perform best when they are considered from the outside in, and not simply the inside out. It’s a process of understanding that, unlike suburban centres, the effort should be focused on bringing people through the centre, not just to it.

So the first step for CBD retailers is to redefine the project away from being a “centre” and towards being an intrinsic part of the CBD and its day-to-day activities.

CBD retailers have some big advantages over their suburban counterparts and, as designers, our role is to take advantage of these.

For example, every day thousands of people flow into the CBD to work. Their first priority is not to shop, but to get easily and smoothly to work and then return home at the end of the day.

Another advantage for CBD centres is that they are usually active at night when suburban centres are completely or largely closed.

It’s only at the weekends that CBD centres are competing head to head with suburban centres for destination shoppers.

It can be useful to consider each time slot separately.

On weekdays, when the flow of workers dominates, the old inside-out focus can really inhibit the opportunities for retailers.

In the past, centres have tended to limit the access and egress of the CBD’s daily inhabitants. Today, we are opening up centres so that they become pathways to other destinations.

One example is to provide laneways or other shortcuts that are easily legible and, instead of breaking up the geometry of the city, work with it.

Creating opportunities and enticements for people to walk through shops and laneways also creates reasons for them to buy products and services and makes these connections authentic; an alignment of retail, connection and place.

This kind of convenience creates a “fondness” for retail centres in the minds of the CBD’s daily inhabitants.

From there, we add a finer grain to their experience. For example, including a range of eateries, from $5-$7 lunch café, to the classy but quick business bite, to the premium $200-a-head lunch destination. Cut-down supermarkets cater to the newly mortgage-encumbered, who are eating sandwiches at the office.

If we provide easy access to convenient retail – chemists, post offices, bakeries, stationery, bottle shops– stopping in on the way to or from work becomes an option. And when it is time to buy a birthday present or a new suit, these daily visitors are already primed to buy from CBD retailers from their daily experience of convenience and generosity.

On weekends, transport is the crucial factor in competing with the suburban centres. Regular, reliable and easy public transport and plenty of car parking—including the dollar value of these carparks—are vital to taking advantage of one of the CBD’s primary strengths – a strong sense of place.

Cultural and social activities tend to congregate in CBD centres, providing a rich array of activities for weekend visitors who may or may not be in the centre solely to shop.

Once again, the CBD centre’s role is to make it easy for visitors to navigate to their destinations and to provide plenty of options to buy, linger, window shop, and people watch.

Food, entertainment and fashion are the linchpins here, the links that attract visitors and slow down their journeys sufficiently for them to spend along the way.

Nighttime activities, on weekdays and the weekend, are another opportunity for CBD retailers to build bonds with visitors, who have a chance to linger and window-shop, away from the bustle of busy daily activities, and the time pressure of a workday.

The national need to encourage people to live in our CBDs provides a kind of link between all the time slots, opening up opportunities for night-time retail as well as increasing custom for everyday convenience stores.

Nighttime activity also encourages short-term inhabitants, at hotels and serviced apartments to get out on the streets and sample a bit of the local life (sleep in the box and live on the street).

In short, context is the key to successful CDB retail centre design. When the design of retail centres integrates smoothly into the weekday, weekend and night time activities of visitors and inhabitants, the CBD minimises its weaknesses, takes advantage of itsstrengths and really distinguishes itself from the suburban retail offer.