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My Way-Too-Experienced Moment
Posted December 5th, 2014 in Blog by Rick Hill

We all have those transformative moments in our careers: the moment we won a big award; the moment we were singled out for a great success; and of course the moment we blurted out a giant gaffe – the kind we wanted to retract before the last word left our mouth. We learn from our successes and more from our failures.

 

I’ve been in the retail development business for over 30 years, learning the business at an early age at The Rouse Company; then forming a national property management firm servicing major institution like New York Life, Teachers Insurance, and Stanford University Pension fund and winning several ICSC and ULI national awards along the way. While working on 146 projects which included IKEA, Planet Hollywood, Virgin Megastore, 11 National Parks, luxury hotels and resorts, the 96 Olympic Games and many more – I’ve had a lot of these moments. Recently, however, I encountered one that truly surprised me. While making a presentation to a potential developer on behalf of my client, a family trust with a strategic property in a major boom city, I was criticized for a plan that was labeled as being out of touch.

 

During the presentation, I suggested the development of an urban village to serve as a 21st century community center. I walked my audience through the facts: the area around the site had experienced rapid high density and high income residential growth far exceeding national norms; it featured exactly zero places for retail, dining, entertainment, or public gathering; the types of companies locating to the area were app pioneers that did not have the resources to create a complete campus of their own; the area around the site had a highly diverse and educated daytime work population; and large segments of the new immigrants to the area were excluded from established institutions which created a need for public places of socialization.

 

I was pleased with the clarity of the plan and I felt good about the presentation – or so I thought. As always, my work was research driven and based on proven methodologies that collected historical and up-to-date data on consumer buying behavior. I had also included a forward-thinking predictive analysis of consumer trends using a large variety of search, website and social media analytics. But not long into my talk, the senior development manager started fidgeting. It was obvious that he wasn’t receptive to a retail plan. Soon, he indicated that he thought the site would be better used as a high-tech campus with retail limited only to support services for company employees residing in his development – yet, I continued on.

 

When he had heard enough, he stood up and waived off the presentation as being “old school” and “irrelevant.” He attempted to redirect the conversation to suggest the future of this site was only appropriate for a Google-like office campus filled with a new generation of connected workers. I suspected his comments were designed to discredit me because he wanted to strip mine the site as fast as possible.

 

The real problem is, a lot of people in the development business agree with this mind set. Many think that the 80 million plus Millennia’s (the largest cohort in history) and their way of communication and shopping will mean a complete change in the retail industry. Growth in internet sales by this cohort group is often cited to prove that ideas about physical places like mine don’t work anymore. But this vision is clearly wrong.

 

The real world of physical experiences is thriving. Art and music festivals, temporary marketplaces, brand experiences, and experiential theme parks reflect a demand for places other than the fastest delivery of commodity products at the lowest price.

 

The following day, my client terminated negotiations with the developer. Their reasoning: The developer’s one-dimensional vision of the future meant the community and the people the client wanted to serve would suffer if the site was walled off as a dedicated corporate campus designed to contain ideas and people.

 

This entire exchange was a truly transformative moment for me because it struck at my soul on many levels. From it I have found a new energy that has revealed new insights into the need for real places that will enhance their surrounding communities. This will not be realized in silo work places, fortress company campuses, and internet only social communities.

 

Two weeks ago, I was at the International Association of Amusement Parks meeting with theme park designers and viewed new physical places under development conceived by creative artists from the live theater and the movie industries. Their approach to storytelling is creating places of meaning. This week I am at Art Basel in Miami exploring contemporary culture expressed in art forms developed hundreds of years ago which are located adjacent to cutting edge and mind blowing 3-D video installations. Next week I am in London to experience Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, an event that attracts over 3 million people to a temporary retail village dressed up as a traditional holiday carnival.

 

Early next year, I am working with talented creatives from the fashion, film, graphic design, theme park, resort, entertainment, architecture and land planning industries to create a mobile brand experience designed to bridge the gap between the cyber world and malls. I know along the way I will learn and inspire and collaborate with people very different from me, and I will absorb all that is shared, because it is the mixing of youth and experience, cultures and knowledge, tradition and technology that leads to breakthrough thinking and new solutions in the marketplace.

 

Many great artists and architects have produced their best work after the age of 60 and well into their 80s. Their wisdom and knowledge made quantum leaps forward when they were mixed with inspirational clients, new resources, and new challenges. Frank Lloyd Wright designed his masterpiece Falling Water at the age of 67, which led to a career renaissance and 800 subsequent commissions. PT Barnum did not start his circus until the age of 62 and after a major failure. Walt Disney announced Disney World and Epcot at the age of 64. Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel between 59 and 66 and before starting his career as an architect (which extended to the age of 89).

 

Societal prejudices and age stereotypes can easily push to the side and discourage the unique combination of talent and experience required to filter new ideas to the point of a successful solution. Yet, technology advances and new creative techniques flourish at the intersection of the old and proven processes.

 

Obtained knowledge in the real estate industry requires new creativity to realize a renaissance of places that are more relevant than ever. However, technology gaps among the shopping generation that possess wisdom and Wall Street’s demand to dumb down physical shopping space to the lowest cost of operation are heightening a brain drain required to sustain the shopping center industry. But the marketplace is actually demanding creative greatness and new solutions that transcends the fast delivery of goods and services. These solutions will only materialize when technology and youth fully integrate with an inspired wisdom to form collaborative teams that will innovate and create every day – regardless of age.

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