Two years ago, the trend of entertainment-based experiences appeared as retail shoppers were flocking to online stores.
Now, post-COVID-19, Tim Lowe, vice president of leasing and development at The Staenberg Group (TSG), believes it is a trend that’s here to stay as the real estate development group advances closer to the first openings in The District in Chesterfield Valley this year.
“My background is regional malls. I came out of that world, and 30 years ago, boy, that world was powerful,” Lowe said. “Everybody went to the enclosed mall because that was just the place to be … I think that, because of what has happened in our world and how people have changed their habits from how they shop to how they interact and what they do, the malls have fallen into somewhat of a disrepair and the department stores, they are no longer the Goliaths they used to be.”
That’s part of the reason TSG conceptualized The District to revitalize the site of Taubman Prestige Outlets Chesterfield at 17057 N. Outer Forty Road.
Plans to redevelop the site launched two years ago after The Taubman Company approached Lowe and TSG President Michael Staenberg with the prospect of reimagining the dying outlet mall space.
What emerged was The District, a phased project with Main Event, an action-packed family friendly event space, anchoring it to the east and The Factory, a live concert venue that will host bands, comedians and other performances, anchoring it to the west.
A nearby Residence Inn will allow individuals traveling or visiting from out of town to stay on-site. The hotel occupies one of three lots to the east of The District with Topgolf and a future iFLY indoor skydiving center occupying the other two. While not physically connected to the outlet mall site, Topgolf’s presence was included in The District’s overall plan.
According to Lowe, it was Topgolf’s success that sealed the deal on emphasizing entertainment over retail.
“We realized Topgolf is the No. 1 entertainment tenant in the United States, and they were doing extremely well at this location,” Lowe said. “I think that because of the demise of some of the retail, especially the enclosed mall retail, it’s given more opportunities for entertainment venues to be successful, and they seem to work.”
According to Lowe, The District currently is finishing its first phase of development, which includes Main Event. The 52,000-square-foot family entertainment center is one of 50-plus locations across the country, but St. Louis’ first location.
“We have three locations in Kansas City and the positive response we have in that community is much like what we hope to gain in Chesterfield,” said Chris Morris, CEO of the Dallas-based entertainment company. “We are community-first, so we operate each center distinctively based upon the needs of the local residents and families, but at the same time, our brand mission is to bring people together for connections that make life-long memories.”
The Chesterfield space will offer bowling, rope climbing, laser tag, virtual reality, video games, billiards and arcade games under an all-you-can-play model. Also on-site is a sports bar for patrons over age 21.
“It accommodates both young kids who want to have some birthday parties and have some fun, or a lot of corporate groups who want to use it for a corporate outing,” Lowe said.
The Chesterfield location will be the first time Main Event has been part of a larger inclusive development, instead of operating as a standalone venue.
“Main Event had been looking at St. Louis for a long time, they just hadn’t found the right location,” Lowe said. “The sell was really, ‘You might do really well when you’re on your own, but you’re going to do really well when you have friends.’ That’s why shopping malls always did really well. Why did Macy’s and Dillard’s go to the same shopping center? Because they all wanted to draw on each other’s customers.”
Main Event is anticipated to open on Sept. 17.
The District’s other anchor is The Factory, an indoor music venue that can accommodate up to 3,000 people in a versatile space that can be scaled to fit different crowd and audience sizes.
According to Brian Carp, chief operating officer of The Factory, upon stepping inside, one of the first things people will notice is the factory-inspired aesthetic with touches like polished and stained concrete, brick walls and a main bar located in the entryway. The space was designed by Creve Coeur-based O’Toole Design Associates to have a timeless vibe.
“We were able to use elements from different venues that allowed us to really pick the best elements to go into the design of The Factory,” Carp said.
The timeless aesthetic also allows The Factory the freedom to explore a wide array of music and entertainment genres. According to Carp, that’s exactly what they plan to do.
“We want to make it feel like it is home for everyone in the community, so we will do all different types of shows,” Carp said. “We’ll do rock and roll shows, we’ll do pop shows, we’ll do comedians, we’ll do family shows, we’ll do hip-hop, we’ll do jazz, country, there really isn’t anything we won’t be doing at The Factory.”
Carp has over a decade of entertainment experience with music and concert venues across the country.
The District is fully wired for both video and audio webcasting and live streaming should touring bands choose to utilize that option, but Carp said he feels like it won’t be needed for long.
“We’ll see how the return happens and how shows kick back off and what the experience is like, but I think there’s so much demand for that in-person (experience) that I truly believe some of the live-streaming opportunities will start to fade away a little bit as people are more apt to come out and experience it in-person,” Carp said.
In regard to an opening date, Lowe said COVID-19 restrictions will play a role.
“We’re hoping to open it this summer – July or August – but depending upon the restrictions at the time, that could get postponed,” Lowe said. “We really think, with the amount of interest we’ve had from musicians and bands that want to come play at The Factory, once COVID-19 is behind us, the entertainment side is just going to take off because everybody wants to get out.”
The next phase of The District to be tackled includes what Lowe referred to as “the gathering spot,” which would include a restaurant anchor and hangout space in a centralized location. An outdoor stage would occupy the former Polo Ralph Lauren space, with the current GAP and Banana Republic retail spaces being converted into sit-down restaurants with outdoor seating. The existing food court, located near the retail stores in the center of the outlet mall, will become a social house with games.
“It’s … where I can sit and relax (or) I can have cocktails at the restaurants and sit in the patio areas,” Lowe said.
TSG is currently scouting for an activity-based operator for the space adjacent to Main Event, where clothing retailer H&M now sits. Lowe said TSG also is working to bring in a university to help create a center for esports (competitive, multiplayer video gaming) in the former Club Fitness space on the east side of the development. Lowe said the facility would be the first national esports facility in the St. Louis market.
“It would probably be the only one,” Lowe said
Lowe said The District’s goal is to draw visitors from across the country, which dovetails with Chesterfield’s growing status as a youth sports hot spot with easy access to baseball and soccer fields as well as the recently developed Maryville University Hockey Center.
“You already have a lot of people traveling and coming into St. Louis or Chesterfield Valley for youth sports tournaments,” Lowe said. “We really believe this is not just a Chesterfield draw. This is a metropolitan St. Louis draw. Were going to draw from St. Charles County, we’re going to draw from St. Louis County, but people who come to St. Louis for visits either those who have kids in sports tournaments, or those visiting family or here on vacation, they’re going to know that The District is like the entertainment place to go for all these entertainment opportunities, from dinner to cocktails to music events. All of our tenants should have some type of an entertainment or participation component.”
To that end, all of the retail tenants in The District are moving out. The Polo Ralph Lauren Outlet and H&M recently announced they will relocate to new spaces at St. Louis Premium Outlets on the western end of Chesterfield Valley by fall 2021.
The Bike Stop Bakery is one of the few existing tenants that is anticipated to stay because it ties into the The District’s theme of activity-based entertainment and gathering spaces.
Lowe anticipates openings in The District to continue into 2022.