Investor Insight: CenterCal shares the keys to success for development in the Internet-driven era
EDCUtah recently spoke with Fred Bruning, CEO of CenterCal Properties, a company that specializes in “place-making” for communities, for a Q&A session. Bruning offered his expertise on how we can create economic impact through place-making, something at which CenterCal succeeds. His perspective on how Utah’s growth provides future opportunity can educate us on the proper execution of future public development planning.
What does CenterCal do?
I think the most important thing that CenterCal does is create compelling places. In an internet-driven era, as we are in today, having a place that stands for itself that is a reason for people to come visit, whether it be for shopping, dining or coming to the office, that place thoughtfully executed is the most important key to success for our projects. What we do is create mixed-used projects, shopping centers, and entertainment venues. The core of what we’re trying to do is create a compelling place that is a trajectory changer in the community that people come to six or seven times a week, as opposed to the traditional malls which are seeing fewer and fewer customers every year.
An example of this is the work we did with Station Park (Farmington, UT), which was a surprise when we opened it, but it helped people to change the way they perceive the city of Farmington. Previous to that, the only retail in the area was a Smith’s food store, and there was no Class A or Class B office space, but we realized that if we were able to create a compelling enough place or destination that we would attract people’s attention and be able to raise the bar of the type of end users that were coming to the Farmington Community. Most of the brokers in Utah told us we were crazy to think we could get Class A offices to go up to Farmington, the same thing was said about restaurants, but by creating the place we created a center of gravity that was very compelling for companies like Pluralsight, who thought it would be a great place for their employees to work.
We hope to take that same spirit and create a similar feel in the Riverton community. We think with this project we can kick it up a notch and create a space that will become the favorite living room of the community.
What makes your company unique to the industry?
We don’t have a lot of ego in the company where we believe that we’re all that special, but what we do believe is that we have a team of professionals here that are consumed with the passion for place-making. Many other companies will do repetitive things where they build a Target, and then they will build ten more targets or a drug store, but what gets us excited is creating a special place and honoring the community and being honored by the community in return to gain their continued patronage. To be so honored you have to work harder today and think about how our lives have changed over the last 40 years. Being sensitive to how things have changed in our culture also informs what we want to do in our projects. People eat out five times more than they shop and having a wide selection of restaurants that are family friendly with a wide variety of choices are often more important than who your retail tenants are. The same thing is true with entertainment and electronics. That’s part of the passion is making sure we get the mix right and making sure that what we’re offering to the community isn’t replicating what’s already there, creating something that’s going to create a new experience, something that’s especially going to make life more convenient for the community.
Why is your industry important to Utah’s business/economic growth?
Having a place where you can have a community gathering spot is becoming more and more important to CEOs and companies as they look for a location, because their first goal is that they want their associates and employees to be happy. They want them to be in a place where they feel like they’re coming to a place where it’s fun to go to work. In Station Park, I love seeing, whether it’s an attorney or high-tech computer wiz, sitting out in the sunshine, sleeves rolled up, working on a brief or a complex algorithm in the park, just loving being a place where you can be more creative. I think spots like this can have a positive economic impact because you can actually sell that this is state-of-the-art place making, which is every bit as good as place making happening in Boston or Chicago, and its place-making in a state where in truth: why wouldn’t anyone want to live here in Utah? You have such a beautiful state, you have wonderful people, you’ve got a high level of education, and you have the same type of places and the same type of technology, that you can find in the finest cities around the world, even in a smaller town like Farmington, Utah. Having that kind of place-making can be conducive to having companies like a PluralSight, like a Vista Outdoors and others, make it their corporate headquarters choice or their retail headquarters choice. Because, at the end of the day what they’re interested in is employee retention and employee interest and satisfaction. There’s no better way to do that then assure them that they’re in a place where they’re really going to enjoy coming to work every day.
Why does CenterCal do business in Utah?
We always decided we wanted to work in the best places, and Utah is certainly one of the best places. When you look at Utah you have a thriving economy, you have a state that’s growing rapidly, and you also have a state that’s growing with great planning. Utah is very forward thinking regarding infrastructure, roads, freeways, and things of that nature. I know that can be daunting for people who aren’t used to that velocity of change, but the good news is that Utah does the best job of dealing with that growth and change than any state I’ve ever seen. What you have is a thriving economy, very well educated people in the state, a welcoming attitude from a governmental standpoint of making it easy to get permits and move projects forward, while still being concerned about the quality and the level of execution of the project. If people are willing to bring their “A” game to Utah, Utah is willing to bring their “A” game to those companies.
Tell us about the new development in Riverton; what will it mean to the community?
What I hope it will mean to the community is that we’ll change the trajectory of development in that part the community to a higher vision of development. What I’ve seen happen so far in the community is that you have a lot of open-air centers, but there’s really not a center place for the community to gather. What we hope that we’ll be able to create in Riverton is a destination that people will be able to come and enjoy for dozens of different reasons. They’ll come to work, to stay in their hotel room, they’ll come to see a movie, to see the live entertainment, they’ll come to have a great meal, they’ll be able to shop in a wide array of stores, and they’ll be able to live in a project that will be a master planned larger community. What we hope to be is the Centerpiece of a larger community focus. Creating that kind of quality will encourage high-quality jobs to come to the Riverton area, even more so than is currently happening. Creating the type of destination where people of all ages will enjoy just coming and spending a day. What we like to say is, we want to create an environment where people come to spend a day, even if they never buy anything. They just feel like they’re having such a good time being there, seeing people and listening to the music, gathering and talking, that it becomes a destination that doesn’t require you to buy something while you’re there.
What measures can be taken now to ensure Utah has successful economic future?
So much of what the communities and the state are doing now is spot on. Planning infrastructure for the future, planning for rapid growth, that is at a level of growth that is surprising. Something that struck me is that I was trying to describe to the retail community how Riverton has changed. One of the things I did was looking at school populations in compared with Portland, Oregon. There are 43,000 students in all of Portland Unified school districts, if you look at Canyon and Jordan School districts combined, which used to be one district, they currently have a school population of 85,000. It’s planning for growth, it’s planning for infrastructure. All of the things that will sustain that type of growth. If Utah continues to do what it’s been doing, it will continue to have a very vibrant future. I think that will be a gift to future generations because unlike states in the Midwest where children grow up and get their degrees, can’t find a job and have to move elsewhere; we see our example of that young man in the Utah medical center. He’ll be able to stay home with family and friends and fulfill his dreams. It’s a wonderful vision for the future.
What is next for CenterCal in Utah?
We hope to keep doing new projects. We also have our Canyon Corners project up in Park City that is going to be a wonderful Whole Foods with some Shops, some workforce housing as well. We’re doing affordable housing on the site, so hopefully, those people that work there won’t have to drive so far to get to work every day. We are looking at other areas in the greater Wasatch front where we think there’s still greater work to be done, a lot of repurposing retail properties that set a paradigm that’s not so popular anymore but that could be brought back with the right re-characterization with more of a mix-use strategy. It would be a great privilege for us to do more projects in Utah and we hope that we’re fortunate enough to be able to do so.
CenterCal has changed, and continues to change the way that retail can affect a community in Utah. Fred Bruning and Jean Paul Wardy began CenterCal in 2004. Their goal is to create a compelling place that is a trajectory changer in the community. CenterCal Properties recently completed their “Station Park” development in Farmington, Utah and has already broken ground for their “Mountain View Village” in Riverton. We look forward to future projects that CenterCal will bring to Utah. They are extremely valued in the state of Utah and have influenced the economy throughout the communities in which they work. The idea of place-making to create a tighter knit community feeds into the desire we have for Utah’s future. It’s a great state to do business in, and these masterfully crafted centers echo the feeling of bringing people together to promote a better future for Utah.