By Steiner + Associates | Published in Shopping Center Business
At age 20, Easton Town Center has maintained its position by breaking new ground
Easton is a 1,300-acre mixed-use property in Columbus, Ohio created by The Georgetown Company and L Brands with over 12 million square feet developed to date. Easton Town Center, co-developed by The Georgetown Company and Steiner + Associates, is the 90-acre heart of the project spanning at about 2 million square feet.
For Easton Town Center, who first opened its doors in 1999, a 20th anniversary is reason for celebration. Two decades of success doesn’t just happen. For a project that has accurately been described as genre-defining, it has also been forced to grapple with a difficult question: what happens when that genre evolves?
Easton’s small-town middle-America theme—complete with period architectural detail courtesy of M&A Architects—combined a layout that prioritized intimate streetscapes and public spaces to create an engaging sense of place. Easton’s experiential elements literally and figuratively broke new ground, establishing itself as Central Ohio’s signature shopping, dining and entertainment destination.
For all of its design and development innovation, the 1999 version of Easton evolved over time to fit the needs and trends of the marketplace. The project initially lacked a residential component. While not a fit for the town center at the time, this critical addition was prioritized later in development to meet demand. While some residential needs were met with Easton Commons—a complex that opened immediately adjacent to Easton Town Center—a more comprehensive on-site solution is underway in the ongoing Easton Expansion.
The merchandising mix and programming also needed to evolve as retailers like GameWorks struggled, eventually to be replaced by entertainment giant LEGOLAND Discovery Center. That context is important, especially given the way mixed-use commercial spaces have changed over the years. To remain at the forefront of the industry, Easton would have to continue to improve.
How do you evolve without altering the compelling formula and consistent success?
Easton’s ability to remain not only relevant, but vibrant and dynamic—continuing to set an industry standard for innovation and engagement while producing extraordinary bottom-line sales—is predicated on a relentless commitment for success. Easton has not only expanded, but truly evolved, introducing new uses, amenities, concepts and tenants.
Easton’s first expansion came online in 2001, and the project added another major component in 2014 with the 54-acre, 583,000-square-foot Easton Gateway (which included anchors Dick’s Sporting Goods, REI, Whole Foods and Costco). Easton has added office space over the years, and now has approximately 3.5 million square feet of Class A office on or adjacent to the property. New residential and hospitality features have also been added, the most recent being the upcoming 136-room Aloft Hotel by Marriott (Easton’s fourth hotel), opening in 2020 as part of the new Easton Expansion. Construction is already underway on the $500 million project, which represents the largest expansion of the center since 2001. Located on 16 acres in the northeast quadrant of Easton Town Center, the expansion will transform the area located between the Town Center and Easton Gateway.
In recent years, the Easton Station Building has benefitted from a multimillion-dollar overhaul. The list of renovations includes an expansion of the grand staircase with 1,370 feet of new color-changing energy-saving lighting and hundreds of linear feet of new stair rail. Updated tile flooring and windows brightened the space, and two new tenant spaces were created. A new color scheme, signage and directories completed the transformation.
Regional firsts and marketplace exclusives have long been a priority for Easton. A tenant roster featuring approximately 300 best-in-class retail, entertainment and dining venues includes the market’s only Nordstrom, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, Anthropologie, Sur La Table and The Container Store. Easton is home to Ohio’s largest cinema, the AMC Easton 30, and Lifetime Fitness, one of Central Ohio’s largest fitness clubs. LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Columbus is another regional first, and the upcoming RH design gallery—a three-story, 40,000-square-foot freestanding building—will be the first of its kind in Ohio and one of only 19 in the country. The New Easton Expansion will also host True Food Kitchen’s first Ohio location, and California-based automaker Tesla’s recent relocation to a 36,000-square-foot showroom-and-service space, frees up space for the first Shake Shack in Columbus.
Easton’s retail innovation includes creating dedicated space for temporary/flex spaces and rotating pop-ups, as well as a variety of new dining and entertainment concepts. Recent highlights include The Rooms at Easton, a collaboration with COSI Columbus offering free interactive science exhibits, and the pending addition of Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce Cafe and Speakeasy, a creative new bistro, bar and speakeasy concept that guests will be able to access through a series of hidden doors and passages.
Easton has cultivated its status as a regional landmark, and true community resource. With extensive programming prioritizing seasonal celebrations and community events, Easton has remained the social and civic center of Columbus. Community arts programs, concerts and street entertainment are featured prominently, and Easton has also successfully embraced local retail and dining concepts like Northstar Café. Easton’s charitable initiatives have further cemented its local connections: the Easton Community Foundation has provided more than $7 million in financial support to Central Ohio organizations. The Town Center’s success also results from the synergy of 4 million square feet of office space, bringing 35,000 workers to Easton daily and making it the #1 center of commercial activity in the region.
Easton is L Brands CEO Les Wexner’s vision for a dense, urban center. Over time, the project has been a reflection of his commitment to continuously improve the project, investing in its success and refusing to be complacent in an ever-evolving industry.
With 30+ million annual visitors, Easton has grown from a $225 million investment into a $1 billion asset. The center is thriving, evolving, and justifying its place as one of the nation’s most popular and profitable mixed-use destinations.