Drivers along Route 2 are beginning to get a view of that trend in retail development as work progresses at Chapel View -- the site of the former Rhode Island Training School for Boys. The juvenile detention facility, with its stuccoed 19th-century dormitories, is being transformed into an upscale retail, office and residential complex by Carpionato Properties Inc., of Johnston.
"It's now ready to definitely finish its toddler stage," said Mark Briggs, Carpionato's leasing director.
The mixed-use project has been a long time coming, held up in part by the reconfiguration of the busy intersection at New London Avenue and Sockanosset Cross Road. The work included relocating a 1,400-foot-long wall to accommodate the wider road and the contours of the new development.
Carpionato paid $400,000 for the masonry work and the $4.9-million cost of redesigning and rebuilding the intersection, Briggs said.
Like the road project that began last year, work on Carpionato's mixed-use development just south of the Garden City Shopping Center, has been slow going. A Shaw's supermarket was slated to open in May.
The rest of the project will follow in stages, according to company executives. The work includes restoring several historic buildings, including three of the old training school dormitories and the rustic stone chapel on the property.
The dormitories, which back up to New London Avenue, will probably house stores. The chapel will be a restaurant.
With its rough-cut stone walls and large stained-glass window, the chapel is considered one of the most attractive buildings on the property and inspired the name for the new development.
In all, there will be about 30 stores with a total of 240,000 square feet of retail space. The stores will be joined by as many as seven restaurants, 55,000 square feet of condominiums and 80,000 square feet of offices. Among the restaurants will be Ted's Montana Grill, a chain being developed by media mogul Ted Turner that will feature bison and wild game on the menu.
"It's our intention to aim for a more upscale tenant mix," Briggs said. "Certainly the success of Garden City has prompted the retail portion of Chapel View."
It is now expected to open in spring and cost about $72 million to complete.
Chapel View is part of an evolving trend in retail development -- mixed-use projects that interweave apartments and condominiums with chain stores, "tablecloth" restaurants and cinemas in something akin to a village setting.
Like "power" centers in the 1990s, which featured a handful of big-box retailers such as Target, Home Depot and Best Buy clustered around a parking field, the open-air "lifestyle" center format emerged in response to shifts in retailing, customer preferences and the desire among community planners to create central gathering places in undistinguished suburban landscapes.
Decades after the enclosed shopping mall gave department stores such as Filene's, Macy's and Sears sway over suburban shoppers by enticing them inside multilevel stores, dozens of retail chains claimed their own suburban footholds with smaller stores. Crate & Barrel, TJ Maxx and Barnes & Noble became brands in their own right, without the need to rely on department store anchors for spillover traffic.
Shoppers apparently like being able to dash into such individual stores without having to traverse a long mall concourse.
Over time, the suburban landscape became saturated with shopping malls, leaving few regions where a JC Penney or a Lord & Taylor wasn't within easy reach for the nation's car-reliant consumers. Suburbanization left fewer places where developers could even assemble the acreage to build a 1 million-square-foot mall.
"The trend is toward these smaller centers because there aren't a lot of markets that will support two, three, four anchors and 300,000 or 400,000 square feet of shops," said Les Morris, of Simon Property Group, one of the nation's largest mall owners.
Only 11 regional malls were planned to open between March of this year through the end of next year. By contrast, 150 new lifestyle centers are expected to open in the next few years. Simon has no enclosed malls in the works, but plans to open five mixed-use projects within a year.
Regional malls are costly to build -- the 1.3 million-square-foot Providence Place cost $460 million by the time it opened five years ago.
"Regional malls are a tough sell to communities these days," said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "They're larger and more disruptive," than lifestyle centers.
About two decades ago, urban planners also began reexamining the social space of communities, giving rise to the "New Urbanism" championed by architects such as Andres Duany, the urban designer who helped Providence shape its plans for the Downcity redevelopment.
Influenced by that debate, developers responded by altering the typical strip shopping center to address shoppers' changing attitudes and lifestyles.
The definition of a lifestyle center is a bit fluid and not even retail and real estate insiders can agree on what the term means.
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, these new shopping centers cater to the "lifestyle" pursuits of consumers. The projects rarely contain traditional department stores and normally include fountains, ice rinks, benches and other landscaping that encourages people to take a leisurely pace when visiting.
Many have no store that exceeds 20,000 square feet, with the total center size running between 100,000 square feet and 500,000 square feet. Chapel View will have 240,000 square feet of retail space and 135,000 square feet of apartments and offices.
In the part of the complex anchored by the former training school dormitories, the first floor will house shops, the second floor will house offices and the third floor will be residential units.
By contrast, regional malls such as Providence Place have more than 1 million square feet of retail space. There's also another obvious difference -- a roof.
Municipalities have embraced the lifestyle center trend as these "New Urbanist" projects attract residents and enhance property values, according to a report from Friedman Billings and Ramsey, an Arlington, Va., real estate investment company.
The first project to call itself a lifestyle center was Shops at Saddle Creek, developed by Poag & McEwen, in 1987 in Germantown, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis.
Arnold "Buff" Chace, a principal proponent of the Downcity redevelopment in Providence, was an early practitioner of such New Urbanist thinking -- although on a grander scale than Chapel View. He and a partner first proposed a master-planned development in Mashpee, Mass., about the same time Shops at Saddle Creek opened.
The plan for the core of Mashpee Commons on Cape Cod was created and permitted in 1986, and the transformation of an existing shopping center began. The plan for the Mashpee project includes 6 interrelated neighborhoods with 380 housing units and 462,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and offices. Approximately 65 percent of the land will be protected as open space when the phased project is completed. Currently, there are 13 apartments available at Mashpee Commons.
Lifestyle centers began sprouting up in great numbers in mostly affluent ZIP codes by the late 1990s. There are about 100 of these centers in the United States, with about 20 more expected to open each year through 2006. Eventually, there could be about 250 across the country, according to an ICSC consultant.
The Village at South County Commons has had something of a rolling opening since it was first proposed in 2001. The 27-building development along Route 1 in South Kingstown now includes an eight-screen movie theater, an Applebee's restaurant, a Sylvan Learning Center and 100 apartments.
Last month, city officials in Worcester gathered with developers and other community boosters in that struggling downtown to announce a $300-million plan to transform the city's core. The project will include revamping the 20-acre Worcester Common Outlets to include 900 condos and apartments, 450,000 square feet of office space and 300,000 square feet of stores -- about half the retail space that now exists there.
General Growth Properties earlier this year announced it was dramatically expanding the Natick Mall to include as many as 250 condominiums.
But Chapel View is more in keeping with the scale of lifestyle centers. Unlike the multilevel Worcester and Natick malls, the stores at Chapel View will be confined to the ground level, as will parking for 1,300 vehicles.
Whether the lifestyle centers will outperform regional malls remains to be seen. Excluding anchor stores, the malls yield average annual sales of $318 a square foot, compared with $310 for lifestyle centers, according to the ICSC.
Retail specialists say that such open-air centers draw customers who might not set foot in a mall.
"There's a real sense of New Urbanism," Morris said, of Simon Property Group. "There's sense of place."
Chapel View at a glance
Developer: Carpionato Properties Inc., Johnston.
Location: Former RI Training School for Boys.
Sockanosset Cross Rd., Cranston
Acres: 30 acres
Retail: 240,000 square feet
Housing: 55,000 square feet
Offices: 80,000 square feet
Opening: Spring 2005