First major retail center in more than a decade planned
A Commerce Township plan for the first major retail development in Southeast Michigan in more than a decade moved a step closer to becoming a reality last week.
The township approved a planned unit development for the mixed-use project last week.
As envisioned by developer Robert B. Aikens LLC, the $100 million first phase of the 55-acre project would bring the next generation of retail development to the region and the first since the 2007 launch of open-air shopping mall Partridge Creek in Clinton Township.
The new project, dubbed “Five & Main,” would combine experiential offerings people can’t get from online shopping, like restaurants, spinning, salons and pet care shops, with high-end and destination retail, residential development, a dog park and access to nature trails.
Those elements would be woven together in a driveable and walkable open-air development with a downtown feel.
Located on the northeast corner of Pontiac Trail and M-5, the first phase would include 341,137 square feet of retail space. More than half or 56 percent would be taken up by restaurants, specialty food and beverage retailers and entertainment options.
By contrast, malls have traditionally only had about 15 percent food and entertainment options, said Ken Nisch, chairman of Southfield-based JGA, a brand strategy and retail design firm.
As it works on a site plan to submit to the township, Aikens is now in final lease negotiations with anchor retailers including a movie theater and a gourmet market. It hopes to get signed commitment from the theater before the International Council of Shopping Centers’ national RECON conference in Las Vegas in late May to leverage in talks with other retailers, said Vice Chairman Robert Bruce Aikens Jr.
To secure financing for the project, Aikens is working to get 60-70 percent of it leased, he said.
The developer is also in conversations with an undisclosed residential developer. Once an agreement is in place, Aikens will work with the developer to firm up whether it will designate half of the 300 luxury apartments planned as age-limited for people age 55 and over.
Aikens hopes to launch construction a year from this spring and to open in fall of 2020.
“A lot of retailers in our business have come to a project like this versus a mall because it has a chance to create an experience with landscaping, art, streets and people,” Bruce Aikens said during the township meeting last week.
” … More retailers are moving to that type of environment because they know they can’t just sell jeans. They have to sell an experience.”
Creating a downtown
The project would effectively create a downtown area for Commerce, giving momentum to a 300-acre plan its downtown development authority hatched around 2002-03 when it acquired 50 acres of Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority parkland, the El Dorado golf course and Links of Pinewood Golf Course. The goal was to bring more housing, a town center and new retail to the township, said Mark Stacey, director of the DDA.
For the next three to four years, there was conversation with Taubman Cos., the developer and owner of nearby Twelve Oaks mall in Novi, about doing something with it, but that never happened, Stacey said. “Then we hit the downturn, basically mothballed the project, and waited for markets to start turning around.”
A few years after the recession, the township moved forward with development of Martin Parkway, the roundabout that connects to Pontiac Trail and M-5 and infrastructure improvements that went along with it, extending Township municipal water and sanitary sewer.
And in 2014 it put out a request for proposals for a retail development. It chose Aikens, which developed the Village of Rochester. Aikens has a commitment to purchase 55 acres from the DDA and has paid $225,000 in non-refundable deposits that will count toward the overall purchase price, said Commerce Township Supervisor David Scott. It also has an option to purchase additional adjacent land from the DDA.
“We were looking for a specific style of development that brought something to this community we never had before, a downtown with exceptional housing, that took advantage of the site,” Stacey said.
In places like downtown Birmingham, Rochester, Ferndale and Royal Oak, you walk out of a business and within a short distance, you can see residential properties, Scott said. “It’s vibrant and operating all the time.”
Five & Main “creates a place in Commerce Township that we can identify and gravitate to as our downtown,” he said.
“It really will become the epicenter of activity different than any other project done previously.”
Room to grow
The site is surrounded by an affluent, growing demographic, with several new home construction projects underway.
Average household income is over $100,000 in the area within a 20-minute drive from the Five & Main site, said Bruce Aikens.
Its location at the epicenter of M-5 and Pontiac Trail will bring people in from the south, and nearby Martin Parkway will give people access from the north, east and west.
As planned, the development will happen in two phases. The first, targeting about 37 acres, calls for seven to nine restaurants, including local and farm-to-table options, a gourmet market, high-end movie theater and/or comedy club, service retail such as wellness offerings, salons and pet spas, high-end, unique and destination clothing and home goods retailers and boutiques, residential units, green spaces for activities like outdoor yoga, all linked with existing nature trails to the north for hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
The plan includes walkable blocks and streets, including a main street with and a nearby “TowneSquare” public space and use of natural materials such as wood, glass and stone to echo the high-end homes in the area. Plans also include fountains, outdoor lighting, a play area, street furniture, artwork and landscaping.
The second phase of the project to the north could include a hotel, additional restaurants, retailers and residential, based on what’s most successful in the first phase, said Cindy Ciura, principal of CC Consulting in Bloomfield Hills, which is consulting with Aikens on the project.
Farmington Hills-based JPRA Architects is serving as project architect and Grissim, Metz Andriese Associates as landscape architect. PEA Inc. is the civil engineer for the project, and Fleis and Vandenbrink as traffic engineer.
Could the development present competition for Twelve Oaks Mall and other Novi retail located just five miles or so away?
“There are some tenants who want to be in this format, and some who want to go in a mall,” Aikens said.
Nisch doesn’t think so, given that a big percentage of the Five & Main project will not be traditional retail.
“I think the uses are going to be apples and oranges … other than the Cheesecake Factory at Twelve Oaks, it’s pretty much a mall offering.”
More than a mall
Five & Main represents the next evolution of what developers call a “lifestyle center.” But many around the country have started to call it a “community center concept” instead, because it goes to great lengths to integrate itself into the community with bike trails, open public spaces and the mixture of people living there, Nisch said.
In contrast to malls which sit isolated from the community “like a fortress,” with single entry points and limited operating hours, Five & Main and projects like it are the future of retail, he said.
Five & Main’s mix of consumption vs. transaction retailers makes it more viable in the long term, since people can’t get their hair done, exercise, get medical care or education or eat at a restaurant online, Nisch said. And the mix of residential and services people need on a weekly basis will spur constant foot traffic. It’s a sustainable model because it can grow with customers from both an age and demographic standpoint, and customers can participate with it as a resident and a visitor. “With a mall, you’re always a visitor,” he said.
Aikens will be courting retailers at a time when many legacy stores like Macy’s, with too many locations, are seeing pressure to close. They’re losing brick-and-mortar sales while they’re growing e-commerce, so there’s not much net growth for their businesses.
With Five & Main, Aikens is starting with a clean slate, Nisch said. That includes attracting “click to bricks” retailers like women’s clothier Soft Surroundings, Sundance and Gap’s Athleta that traditionally have only had catalogue or online, direct-to-consumer sales but now are looking to open a limited number of stores.
“Most people might say, ‘More retail?’ But Five & Main isn’t really a retail project,” Nisch said. “It’s a community project of which retail is part. That’s why it makes sense.”
Aikens’ plan for Five & Main also makes sense given Michigan’s limited population growth and aging population, he said.
Popular mixed-used retail developments that have sprung up in other parts of the country in recent years such as The Villages in Florida include age-limited residential developments. That’s something that makes sense in Michigan, given that our population isn’t expected to grow much in the coming years, but it is aging and soon will be among the largest aging populations in the country, Nisch said.
The project is the right model for retail, but it is not without some risk, he said. Populations are increasingly moving to urban centers, and Detroit could be a highly attractive model for wealthy customers in or moving toward retirement.
That said, Aikens has “first-mover advantage” with Five & Main, Nisch said. “They’re creating a product (that’s) not anything … in the market.”
Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on April 15, 2018. For more information, please click here to read the source article.
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