Building market halls with personality, profitability

A rendering of Zeppelin Station – Courtesy Dynia Architects

Chris Haugen, LEED AP
Vice president, business development, White Construction Group, Castle Rock

As shopping malls and big-box stores struggle to compete against the likes of Amazon and online shopping, there still is an ample audience of people who want to leave their homes to shop. Often these shoppers enjoy the more intimate experience and getting to know the vendors and retailers they are spending their money with.

As a result of this desire among consumers to personally patronize shops and boutiques, developers and retailers have become creative in the ways they are attracting customers. One of the more thoughtful and popular trends has been the rapid emergence of market halls. There are several examples in the Denver metro area, including Stanley Marketplace, The Source, Denver Central Market and the soon-to-open Zeppelin Station – and each is attracting a lot of attention. This attention is not limited to the buying public, but also to other developers and retailers who want to realize the same level of success.

Designing and building market halls varies from project to project. Some are taking historic buildings and repurposing them to become large spaces for vendors to sell their wares. Others are built new and take on a more modern tone. Regardless of whether it is a renovated existing structure or new construction, there are a number of things for an owner/developer of a market hall to consider when planning and preparing for this popular endeavor.

• Historic preservation can equal market hall prosperity. Many of Denver’s historic buildings are being repurposed for a variety of uses and market halls are among them. People are fascinated by older structures, struck by their authenticity and the romance they conjure of times-gone-by. These emotions play nicely with the experience of shopping in a market hall, especially when the design and construction fully express the characteristics of the building itself.

In doing adaptive reuse, it is essential that the historic fabric of these building is saved and highlighted. This includes things such as underscoring original materials, emphasizing unique architectural features and utilizing interesting plays-of-light from historic textures and angles. When repurposing a historic building for a market hall, the architect and general contractor must work closely together and understand that they’re doing more than just “fixing” the structure. They are celebrating the original character of the building and letting the building’s charm speak once again.

Beyond thinking about how to best bring out the personality of an older building, its functionality must be addressed. This includes finding the ideal solutions to make the building accessible (for Americans with Disabilities Act and life-safety requirements), installing restrooms and elevators, putting in modern amenities and addressing unique requirements from the vendors and tenants. All this must be done while being respectful of the original design.

Working with a contractor who can provide important input on the design of a building will help shape decisions and result in successful – and more cost-effective – outcomes. Contractors who have experience with historic preservation and adaptive reuse will be able to recommend solutions that may not have been considered before. (For example, The Stanley Marketplace was able to be registered as a landmark building and receive tax credits for its renovation.)

• New market hall construction provides a blank slate. Building a market hall from the ground up, as is happening with Zeppelin Station, obviously provides a blank slate. This can lead to tremendous opportunities for creative construction and design, but also can present the risk of a lack of personality and a “cookie cutter” feel to the vendor spaces. It’s imperative for the owner, contractor and architect to work together closely, early in the process and craft a building that will appeal to consumers with a more modern flair and a personality all its own.

Unlike the adaptive reuse of a historic structure, building a market hall from the ground-up provides greater flexibility. Meeting ADA standards, accommodating proper egress, matching vendor spaces with their intended uses and incorporating special services and amenities are all more easily addressed during the design and construction of a new building. For example, sizing spaces for the different types of equipment used by tenants is a nice advantage presented by a new building. Likewise, the size openings for grease ducts and locating grease traps can be more easily accommodated.

In order for the construction process to flow smoothly, it’s critical that everyone – from the architect and the general contractor to the developer and the tenant – completely understand what the scope of the build-out will be. This should be clarified in a work letters, which states what each party will provide and what services will be completed. Work letters clarify what the building owner will provide to the tenant and what the tenant is responsible for. It also may indicate specific subcontractors that the owner requires the tenant to use (i.e., fire alarm, suppression and occasionally mechanical, electrical and plumbing).

A quality general contractor, who has experience in market hall construction, will be able to make valuable connections for the tenant in regard to the fixtures, furnishings and equipment needs that will cut-out the middleman and help the tenant save money. An experienced general contractor also can help coordinate the timing of equipment orders and deliveries so that they align with the construction schedule. A general contractor is able to assist through the design process with logistical input and value-engineering ideas coordinated directly with subcontractors to allow for maximum value and timely completion of the project.

A building owner or developer can benefit by bringing on an experienced general contractor early in the process. Opinions that keep the space flexible and adaptable to multiple tenant types will save money and headaches down the road. Likewise, tenant spaces must be interchangeable, so that tenants may be relocated or added within the market hall as needed to assure tenant success.

Developers, retailers and restauranteurs are responding to the popularity of market halls, but for a location to be successful, it requires a general contractor that is experienced and knowledgeable about the nuances associated with this unique space, regardless of whether it’s a new building or the renovation of an existing structure.

Featured in CREJ’s October issue of Retail Properties Quarterly.

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.