Written by: Steve Kaskovich
The fastest-growing retailer in North Texas doesn’t have any stores. Meanwhile, shopping centers are pouring money into atmosphere and amenities, knowing that it takes more than a department store and a parking lot to attract people. This new e-commerce world is bringing remarkable convenience and massive disruption. Enclosed malls are out, smartphones are in, and the retail landscape in Dallas-Fort Worth is shifting before our very eyes.
Thank (or blame) Amazon for this revolution. The Seattle-based online juggernaut has shown the world that you can buy almost anything without leaving home and seems bent on moving into virtually every category. In recent years, it has built a major presence in Dallas-Fort Worth, opening four massive fulfillment centers, hiring several thousand workers, and launching its AmazonFresh service to challenge our abundance of supermarkets.
Still, this online onslaught doesn’t mean the end of traditional stores. Rather, it has spurred a ground war, prompting retailers and developers to be more creative in luring shoppers and winning their dollars. A new way of thinking is on display in southwest Fort Worth at the Waterside development, which opened last fall along Bryant Irvin Road. Developed by Trademark Property, the open-air shopping center is anchored not only by Whole Foods and REI, but by a cozy community space between the stores called The Grove, where shoppers can sit on Adirondack chairs beneath century-old oak trees, take a selfie, get coffee, aand stroll down to the trails on the Trinity River.
“Compelling public spaces are one of the new anchors in retail development,” says Terry Montesi, CEO of Trademark.
Montesi calls Waterside a “conscious place,” which seeks to tap into the emotions of consumers by adding something special for the community. As another attraction, Waterside has cut a deal with a museum to exhibit photographs from its collection.
“We endeavor to connect with people on a deeper level,” Montesi says. “We want people’s subconscious telling them that they feel loved and cared for and served when they go to Waterside.”
While new shopping centers like Waterside are great, there aren’t nearly as many being built as in the past—and almost no malls. Dallas-Fort Worth was expected to add about 2 million square feet of retail space in 2016, which is near historic lows, according to The Weitzman Group. In the early 2000s, DFW was adding as much as 10 million square feet a year. One benefit: retail occupancy is around 92 percent, the highest level since 1984. “There’s virtually no spec building right now, which is a good thing,” said Marshall Mills, Weitzman’s president and CEO. “We’re not seeing centers going up on every corner, thank goodness.”
And that’s despite continued strong population and job growth. While a few new centers continue to be built in hot growth areas, like Legacy West in Plano near the new Toyota campus, more developers are focused on renovating older spaces and attracting unconventional tenants. Mills points to WinCo Foods, the deep-discount grocer that entered the region two years ago and now has nine locations. It has sprouted in a number of abandoned retail sites including a former Sports Authority in Arlington as well as a space at the Irving Mall.
Other malls are working hard to avoid the fate of places like Valley View Center, which is targeted for redevelopment. Department store anchors are struggling, more from the hollowing out of the middle class and expansion of discount rivals rather than the internet, according to John McNellis, a veteran California developer who spoke in Dallas recently at a conference.
In West Fort Worth, Ridgmar Mall is undergoing a reinvention. Macy’s shut its doors last year and, in early 2017, Neiman Marcus will close and move to the new Shops at Clearfork. Clearfork, a Simons Property Group project, targets high-end brands like Tiffany’s and Louis Vuitton as well as destination restaurants like Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen and Rise No. 1.
Some are already calling it the NorthPark of Fort Worth, but there’s an important distinction. It will be an open-air center, not an enclosed mall, and there will be nightlife options such as a high-end bowling center with bocce ball. In other words, stuff you can’t do on the internet.
Steve Kaskovich is the deputy managing editor of business for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.