Emerging trends in urban shopping experiences

Sarah Rand
July 24, 2017
Retail Gets Real
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Almost a decade after its inception, CityCenterDC is one of the busiest areas of downtown Washington, D.C. The first phase of the mixed-use urban development is now complete, and General Manager Timothy Lowery is excited for phase two to “go live” in early 2019 with the construction of a Conrad Hilton Hotel. “The hotel is already talking to the retailers,” he says, speaking about coordinating activities with dozens of shops and eateries on the property.

On this week’s episode of Retail Gets Real, Lowery and his colleague Whitney Burns, senior manager of corporate communications at Hines, share how they contribute to “activating” the 10-acre landmark development and how it all comes together as one unifying, dynamic consumer experience.


When real estate developer Hines took on the challenge of converting the former D.C. Convention Center site into a mixed-use property, they were looking to create a public space that offered programming for a wide variety of customers. With condominium and apartment buildings, office space, a public park and 191 square feet of luxury retail, CityCenterDC not only enhances the experience of neighborhood residents, but also attracts regional and international visitors.

Timothy Lowery (front left) and Whitney Burns (back right) join co-hosts Bill Thorne (front right) and Sarah Rand (back left) in the podcast studio.

Timothy Lowery (front left) and Whitney Burns (back right) join co-hosts Bill Thorne (front right) and Sarah Rand (back left) in the podcast studio.

“We wanted to activate these spaces with public space programming that was free and open to the public,” Burns says. To achieve this goal, the team develops an event calendar full of activities like free live music, yoga classes and a weekly farmers market. Unique public art installations like the Gateway at City Center encourage visitors to relax and spend more time on the property. The three-plane piece by artist David Niles creates a transformative digital art experience.

The lure of CityCenterDC is not just the retailers, but the prospective dynamic experience the space presents. During the holidays, the property’s festive decorations and tree-lighting ceremony give D.C. its own version of New York City’s Rockefeller Center: Over 4,000 people attended last year’s event. “It does give the people of downtown D.C. something with gravity to pull them to a location to celebrate together the holidays,” Lowery says, “and everybody has an amazing time.”

“We’re moving away from a consumption-oriented economy to more of an experience economy.”

Timothy Lowery

When choosing a mix of retail from fashion to food, CityCenterDC “think[s] about what makes sense from a strategic standpoint,” Burns says, and contracts with companies that work well together. “We may not need two Italian restaurants,” for example.

Burns has some tips for other cities thinking of developing mixed-used properties like CityCenterDC: “My advice is to not overthink things.” The industry is changing rapidly with new technologies and shopping experiences seemingly being introduced every week, “but at the heart of it, we’re all consumers,” she says. “What makes your shopping experience different? What really makes you go back [to the store]?” Burns says answering these questions can help developers arrive at the right solutions.

“We’re moving away from a consumption-oriented economy to more of an experience economy,” Lowery says. Creating that experience for consumers while shopping and dining — or using the space to read and relax — will keep them coming back. More outdoor, experience-based spaces are the “new and improved” model for urban shopping malls.

Listen to this week’s episode to learn how CityCenterDC has worked with retailers and the community to create the hottest space in town.

Sarah Rand is one of NRF’s co-hosts on Retail Gets Real. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.