Today’s Retail Industry Looks and Feels Different

November 30, 2017

How Civil Engineers are Working With Developers to Adapt to Industry Changes…..

The retail industry has changed over the last several decades and even more so in the last seven plus years. Today’s shopping centers, or lifestyle centers, include a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment destinations. What began as a transformation to include non-traditional venues such as restaurants has evolved to mixed use buildings including food courts, standalone restaurants, movie theatres, bowling alleys, open amphitheaters, fitness centers, grocers, housing, offices, hotels and more.

Open-air lifestyle destinations and shopping malls are increasing in urban locations with mixed uses that include integrated retail, housing, office, public gathering places and parklike settings. Grocers are replacing department store anchors at some open-air destinations. Organic and specialty grocery stores are gaining in popularity. All of these newer uses beg the question, “What’s next?” It’s certainly an exciting time for the retail development industry.

New and redeveloped lifestyle centers are being marketed as something for everyone. These destinations create memorable experiences and encourage the entire family to spend the day there. Some developers are rethinking their existing plans and adding a highly sought after mixed use component. Big box retailers such as grocers, home goods and electronics stores are getting into the game by becoming a part of mixed use destinations rather than being isolated with standalone buildings and a sea of parking.

Developments that cater to those who desire a life work balance (with Millenials among that group) will continue to be in demand. A newer trend in mixed use building design is developing retail or office at ground level with dwelling units above. A live work concept that appeals to the working class is a smaller two-level condominium which can be used for a business on the ground level and a condominium unit above. Structural design is becoming more vertical as denser uses are incorporated in lifestyle centers to create higher property values. Parking is also going vertical with standard surface parking lots disappearing at lifestyle centers across the country. Some developments are fronting the street with retail or office rather than parking as this form of design is aesthetically appealing and provides a convenience factor for foot traffic.

With all of the evolving changes in the retail development industry, what are civil engineers doing to address the challenges faced by everyone from the developer who wants to maximize the amount of developable land to the architect and general contractor who want to design and build a successful project? And, how does what civil engineers and structural engineers do impact the completion of a lifestyle center project?

As developers continue to reinvent retail development, the services of a civil engineer are invaluable. Site planners and civil engineers at raSmith get involved early with all aspects of the site itself, including how the buildings, infrastructure and parking lots will be integrated. We dig deep and uncover what may otherwise be overlooked to make sure the project isn’t delayed or shelved due to factors that weren’t taken into consideration early, or at all. A civil and structural engineer must understand the site’s topography before a developer even thinks about putting a building on it. It’s important to complete due diligence early and hire an engineer who can identify the opportunities and limitations of a site.

A few of the many questions that a civil engineer must ask themselves include:

  • Is one site versus another more advantageous from a buildable site perspective?
  • Where are the utilities located and what is the most-cost effective, practical way to work around them?
  • Are there low areas that may require a creative stormwater management solution?

A few of raSmith’s recent lifestyle center redevelopment projects spanning the country include Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, California; The Mills at Jersey Gardens in New Jersey; and Foothills in Colorado.

Westfield Century City

Westfield Century City, Los Angeles

The $800 million redevelopment of Westfield Century City in Los Angeles is a recent project completed out of raSmith’s Irvine office. Civil engineering and surveying services were provided for this 1.2-million-square-foot redevelopment that includes a three-level Nordstrom flagship store, a completely remodeled three-level Bloomingdale’s and a new two-level Macy’s. The new Century City experience consists of 422,000 square feet of premium retail space and restaurants. Westfield Corporation, Inc. celebrated the project’s grand opening last month (October 2017).

On the East Coast raSmith is working on The Mills at Jersey Gardens which is positioned to be the largest outlet and value retail megamall in New Jersey. The 392,300-square foot expansion will push total lease area to 1.692 million square feet and will include a new parking structure, a new entertainment district, a new entry featured flanked by restaurants and an outdoor seating/patio space, and an upper level seasonal outdoor dining pavilion. Exciting open spaces will accommodate a variety of community events and retail kiosks. Simon Property Group, Inc. plans to celebrate the project’s grand opening in fall 2019.

On the West Coast raSmith provided site planning and civil engineering for Foothills shopping center at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This $313 million redevelopment project consists of 600,000 square feet of retail space – one of the United States largest retail construction projects. raSmith’s scope of work encompassed site design, grading, utilities and stormwater management. raSmith creatively rerouted an irrigation ditch and converted the abandoned ditch as an underpass for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely access the mall site. Alberta Development Partners celebrated the mall’s grand opening in November 2015 in time for the holiday shopping season.


Foothills, Colorado

raSmith has a national legacy in lifestyle center and shopping center design dating to the early 1970s. Consulting engineering services have been provided for more than 130 projects in 30 states as well as projects internationally. raSmith was once again proud to be a Gold Sponsor of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) CenterBuild conference held November 28–December 1, 2017, at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona.

For more information about raSmith’s services, please reach out to our shopping center team at one of our regional offices as listed below.


David Mortensen, P.E., CDT
Director of Site Design Services
262-317-3282 (Wisconsin Corporate Headquarters; Brookfield, Wisconsin)

Chris Bratty
Western Regional Manager
949-872-2378 (Irvine, California Office)

Todd Mosher, RLA
Senior Development Director
630-405-5570 (Naperville, Illinois office)

About the Author

Chris Bratty

Chris Bratty, project manager for Westfield Century City, has decades of experience in land development involving small-scale to large-scale retail, commercial, industrial and residential projects. He actively participates in the design, planning and construction administration of all civil engineering projects and is a skilled communicator in agency relations and as a client liaison.

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