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Reinvention at Easton Town Center: Significant Rollover and Population Surge Coincide

April 26, 2024

A significant tenant rollover has yielded an opportunity for Easton Town Center to enhance its roster with a formal Fashion District. Retailers and restaurants will begin opening this year just as Columbus, Ohio’s population surges and the property celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Easton opened in 1999 with 773,000 square feet and added 921,000 square feet in 2001, bringing a number of fashion retailers to the center. When those leases were set to roll over in 2022 and 2023, owners Steiner + Associates, L Brands and The Georgetown Co. hatched a concept to create the formally branded Fashion District. “We looked at the upcoming expirations of both retail and food-and-beverage and even some office as almost an opportunity to redevelop the plan,” said Spencer Jordan, Steiner senior vice president of leasing for Easton Town Center.

Easton Town Center has created a Fashion District as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. The property’s central fountain will front the new district.

The Columbus area’s growth and significance bolstered that plan. Columbus has grown exponentially since 2001, and its population led U.S. growth rates in the last half of 2023. Zillow called Columbus one of 2024’s top three national housing markets, and the area is home to many colleges and universities. “What the city looks like 25 years ago is not the city today, so we really wanted to take this as an opportunity to speak to brands that maybe wouldn’t traditionally consider the Midwest,” Jordan said. “Or if they would consider the Midwest, maybe they were looking at only Chicago.”

Thus was born Easton’s Fashion District, featuring luxury and contemporary retail and restaurant space and new-to-Ohio brands like Buck Mason, Chanel Beauty, Jo Malone, David Yurman, Golden Goose, Faherty, Boss, Breitling, Bluemercury and Tecovas. Louis Vitton and Lululemon also expanded their presences at Easton to create their largest stores in Ohio. Steiner will announce an additional 40,000 square feet worth of first-in-state names soon to round out the 100,000-square-foot district. “These are really powerful brands that are now boosting their existing flagships or entering the state for the first time, and it was a very collaborative effort where we had to collect a lot of space and play musical chairs a little bit with the existing retailers,” said Jordan.

Cameron Mitchell’s two-story fine dining Del Mar will anchor the Fashion District. He opened what is now Mitchell’s Ocean Club at Easton in 1999. “We have maybe 30 Easton originals that opened with the core center in 1999, and we have wanted to do something with [Mitchell] for a long time,” said Jordan. “We really wanted to do something with him that spoke to what Columbus has become and what Columbus will be. We were able to identify a space around our fountain that had a really dynamic patio opportunity and use the existing footprint of the building to dream up what it could be.”

Del Mar is tentatively scheduled to open in June. Openings of other Fashion District tenants began in April and will continue through early 2025.

Cameron Mitchell’s 9,400-square-foot Del Mar will replace Smith + Wollensky, which had been an Easton fixture since 2002. Del Mar’s two levels of dining and bar space and outdoor seating will accommodate about 300 people.

Intel and the Power of Relationships

Attracting new-to-Ohio tenants has been a study in timing and statistics. According to the city of Columbus, no singular industry represents more than 18% of the Columbus workforce. Jordan said that makes Easton welcoming to new tenants. There is a solid student population of about 160,000, as well, “so people view this as a test market for brands from food-and-beverage and retail in a lot of ways,” said Jordan.

Even more growth is on the horizon, thanks to an Intel semiconductor plant under development about 20 minutes east. When it opens in 2026, the plant will add 3,000 local jobs with an average annual salary of $130,000, adding up to $390 million dollars in annual payroll. “If 50% of that payroll is linked to consumer spending, that is almost $200 million on goods and services that will be spent locally in the market that isn’t even here today yet,” said Jordan. “A lot of major retailers and brands and F&B groups are looking to the future and seeing the impact that the plant will have, and they are very interested in the market.”

Since 1993, Steiner has developed more than 9 million square feet of retail-focused, mixed-use space, and it has built relationships with tenants along the way. “In this current climate, relationships have never been more important,” said Jordan, “but I feel that brands are also wading into territory where they have never been before.” An example is the firm’s relationship with hospitality group Landry’s. “We were able to work with them in converting a McCormick & Schmick’s to a Mastro’s that will be the only Mastro’s in Ohio,” Jordan said of the steakhouse.

Steiner’s long relationship with LVMH, whose Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton are tenants in Easton, led to the relocation and expansion of the property’s Louis Vuitton store, which now will offer men’s products. “Relationship-wise, what is important to us is working with the existing retailers that we have today,” said Jordan. “That shows that even 25 years later, the brands that are currently represented at Easton continue to reinvest.” Another example is Cooper’s Hawk, which just completed a multimillion-dollar relocation within Easton to the Fashion District.

Meanwhile, “some of these relationships are newly formed, and it speaks to the power of the region and the volume at Easton today and the business that these retailers think they are going to do in the area,” Jordan said. “It is critical when looking at this much [gross leasable area] that you are able to work with a set of brands that can have their preferred co-tenants all at once. Without having a plan for the upcoming expirations that were happening, we would not have been able to look at this as almost a mini redevelopment. It would have continued to be space-by-space leasing.” One-off leasing is valuable, she said, but the significant impact of a Fashion District would not have been possible “without gathering a group of retailers that had not previously looked at Ohio and having them jump into the pool together.”

According to Skye Taylor, a partner at brokerage firm Lantern Real Estate Advisors, which represented both David Yurman and Tecovas in their new leases in Easton’s Fashion District, the move was the right one. “Columbus’ consumer growth trajectory paired with a dynamic tenant roster make Easton a clear choice for our clients who are expanding in the Midwest,” she said.

Easton mirrors the national demand for more food-and-beverage options, and the property has increased its food-and-beverage component significantly over the past five years. Food-and-beverage now represents 20% of inline GLA, excluding major anchors and department stores, and this hefty proportion carried into the Fashion District.

“It is very easy to get complacent when you have a strong-performing center,” said Jordan. “Total credit to Steiner and our partners to allow me and the leasing team to reinvent the wheel when nothing is broken. Moving people, creating vacancies, strategically planning three, four, five years ahead is sometimes very capital intensive but very important for the next 25 years.”

By Ben Johnson

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today


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