Wal­mart Goes to Town With New Mixed-Use Con­cept

WWD Digital Daily - - News - BY SHARON EDELSON

Wal­mart Inc. has seen the fu­ture, and it's the town cen­ter.

Not the fa­mil­iar open-air mixed-use shop­ping cen­ter that be­came all the rage in the early- to mid-Aughts as a re­ac­tion to con­sumers' bore­dom with tra­di­tional malls. The re­tailer's idea is to make bet­ter use of its mas­sive phys­i­cal foot­print while at­tract­ing a more up­scale con­sumer, one that Wal­mart has been in­creas­ingly eye­ing.

The Ben­tonville, Ark.-based gi­ant's new town cen­ter model will reimag­ine more than a dozen ex­ist­ing Wal­mart Su­per­centers, the land on which they sit and sur­round­ing prop­erty — which in many cases is owned by the re­tailer — by uti­liz­ing square footage and acreage in new ways.

Green space will abound in parks built in Su­per­center park­ing lots. Wal­mart will flex its civic mus­cles by mo­ti­vat­ing other busi­nesses — its strat­egy for nat­u­ral dis­as­ter re­lief — by pro­vid­ing sep­a­rate off-site lo­ca­tions where com­pa­nies can con­trib­ute to lo­cal economies on Wal­mart-owned land. Con­tainer parks will of­fer ven­dors an op­por­tu­nity to im­merse them­selves in the com­mu­nity and sell prod­ucts.

Wal­mart will bring its reimag­ined town cen­ters to eight Su­per­centers, in­clud­ing units in Rogers, Ark.; Spring­field and Lees Sum­mit, Mo.; Love­land, Colo.; Wind­sor Heights, Iowa; Gar­land, Tex.; Gre­sham, Ore., and Long Beach, Calif. More than 10 other Su­per­centers will get a “lite” ver­sion of the town cen­ter, in­clud­ing some lo­ca­tions built around food trucks and com­mu­nity parks.

Wal­mart cre­ated a stand-alone web site at wal­martreimag­ined.com aimed at woo­ing re­tail ten­ants that in­cludes videos high­light­ing the lo­ca­tions. Long Beach is all about beer, with im­ages of beer on tap at a bar, a keg be­ing tapped, a rooftop beer gar­den, young peo­ple lis­ten­ing to a concert on the lawn, and a heavy metal sound­track.

Wal­mart has cited po­ten­tial ten­ants such as Pressed Juicery, Bar­taco, iPic, Mas­sage Envy, Francesca's and Shake Shack. Ren­der­ings show huge weath­ered, wood-clad, free­stand­ing food halls. Space inside ex­ist­ing Su­per­centers could be leased to restau­rants, bars and food halls. An ex­am­ple of the lat­ter lo­cated within a Su­per­center showed trendy cor­ru­gated alu­minum pan­els cov­er­ing the walls and say­ings writ­ten in neon such as “I Love Cheeses­teaks” and “Foodie Par­adise.”

Wal­mart wants to pro­vide pedes­trian ac­cess from the town cen­ter to the ex­pe­ri­en­tial zones it has planned as part of the con­cept. It's a hub and spoke strat­egy with Wal­mart at the cen­ter and other food

Re­tail be­he­moth’s new re­tail for­mat is squarely aimed at a higher-end con­sumer.

and bev­er­age, health and fit­ness, ser­vices and en­ter­tain­ment branch­ing off. There will be day-care fa­cil­i­ties for in­fants and chil­dren, and pet day care as well as ur­gent care and Da Vita kidney care.

Vice pres­i­dent of Wal­mart U.S. realty op­er­a­tions LB John­son re­cently told an au­di­ence of the In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil of Shop­ping Cen­ters in At­lanta that the re­tailer wants the town cen­ters' mix of prod­ucts, ser­vices, en­ter­tain­ment and ameni­ties to at­tract more cus­tomers and en­cour­age them to in­crease their dwell time.

In ren­der­ings and com­puter- gen­er­ated im­ages the town cen­ters seem more like one of Caruso's famed open-air Cal­i­for­nia prop­er­ties such as The Grove, with farmers mar­kets, al­fresco eater­ies, land­scaped plazas re­plete with foun­tains, and play­grounds than any­thing as­so­ci­ated with Wal­mart.

Wal­mart in 2016 said it would be­gin scal­ing back store open­ings to focus on grow­ing its mobile and on­line chan­nels, which it said would be the growth en­gine of its busi­ness in the com­ing years. The re­tailer that year re­vealed it would close 269 lo­ca­tions world­wide, in­clud­ing about 154 units in the U.S. that in­cluded 12 Su­per­centers and four Sam's Clubs.

It may seem ironic that Wal­mart, which in­spired protests from lo­cal res­i­dents and neigh­bor­hood groups against its mas­sive pro­posed Su­per­centers — New York Mayor Bill DeBla­sio in 2014 took a stand against the re­tailer — is bend­ing over back­ward to bond with the com­mu­ni­ties where town cen­ters are slated to bow.

Some new town cen­ters will have mo­bil­ity hubs that con­nect res­i­dents with ride- share op­tions, bikes and bus stops, and se­lect lo­ca­tions will fea­ture path­ways con­nect­ing to the com­mu­nity via bike or foot. Wal­mart also plans to host fes­ti­vals and sea­sonal farmers mar­kets at the cen­ters, and Easter Egg hunts and Hal­loween trick- or-treat­ing for lo­cal res­i­dents.

A view of a Wal­mart town cen­ter from there­tailer’s Wal­mart Reimag­ined web site.

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