By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the March 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
The public nature of a retail operation requires that its facility manager stay abreast of not only the internal, background workings of the space, but also of the public face as well. Aesthetics and safety are key concerns in this type of environment, and an established protocol for maintenance and repair contribute to the success of the mission.
At Kent Station, a new retail and mixed use project in Kent, WA, John Hinds, general manager, oversees all of these issues. “I am responsible for the daily operation of the shopping center,” he says. “This includes everything from upkeep and security to managing vendor contracts and relationships.”
But he does not work alone in the upkeep of the facility. At Kent Station, maintenance services are contracted out, with Hinds handling all the agreements. “These contracts encompass a variety of scheduled maintenance needs, such as landscaping the grounds and cleaning the fountains,” explains Hinds. “When we require more specialized technical services, we seek a service professional with expertise in the particular field.”
Hinds came on board at Kent Station as the project was breaking ground in the summer of 2004. During construction, his primary responsibility was to ensure the various building systems were installed and put into operation correctly. When Phase I of the project opened in November 2005 (Phase II was completed one year later in November 2006), Hinds was there to launch the operation.
Designed as a lifestyle center aimed at being a destination rather than solely a place to shop, Kent Station will ultimately be built in four phases totaling 470,000 square feet on an 18.2 acre site. Phases I and II are primarily comprised of retail businesses, along with a satellite branch of a community college. The third phase will include 150 residential units; phase four will include retail and commercial office space.
The retail portion of Kent Station occupies 220,000 square feet and features 28 retail and service businesses, 12 eateries, and a 14 screen movie theater. National chains, such as Coldwater Creek, Ann Taylor Loft, and T-Mobile, are intermingled with local businesses to create a mix of consumer choices.
Managing The Masses
The initial role for Hinds—one that he performed during the leasing of the individual retail spaces—was that of tenant coordinator. As such, he acted as the point person for retail tenants at Kent Station, and once a business signed a lease, Hinds assists in build-out and move in procedures leading up to the project’s opening. “I walked tenants through the process,” says Hinds.
The retailers at Kent Station have control over the design and operation of their interior spaces. However, Hinds explains, “There are certain design criteria and signage standards that need to be followed. I also developed the initial contractor policies the tenants’ contractors must follow.”
Beyond the walls of each tenant space, Hinds is currently tasked with maintaining all the other elements on the property. “I manage the common areas of the center, which include roofs, building exteriors, parking lots, and sidewalks,” he explains. “I am also in charge of security operations, for which we hire security officers who patrol the site 24 hours a day.”
The project was not built with sustainability as a specific goal. However, with resource conservation on the minds of most facility managers, it’s not surprising that Kent Station features a few such measures.
Hinds is responsible for lighting in all common spaces, much of which is exterior lighting. “We specified high efficiency lighting fixtures and lamps—along all the pedestrian walkways—that are both functional and decorative. We also applied these specs to the lighting in our parking lot.”
Kent Station is the result of a public-private partnership forged between the city of Kent and Seattle, WA-based Tarragon Development. In 2001, the city purchased the site with the intention of finding a developer to build a lifestyle center that would attract more people to its downtown for shopping and other leisure activities.
The International Council of Shopping Centers defines a lifestyle center as a facility that “caters to the retail needs and ‘lifestyle’ pursuits of consumers in its trading area.” In addition to apparel and home furnishings stores, for instance, these types of centers include restaurants and entertainment venues to encourage patrons to spend time. Residential units and commercial office spaces often round out the mix.
Kent, located in the Puget Sound region between Seattle and Tacoma, occupies 29 square miles with a population of nearly 85,000. With several distinct neighborhoods and commercial districts within its borders, existing shopping and entertainment venues were spread geographically around the city. As such, the Kent Station project is part of a local collective effort to create a central gathering place in downtown Kent.
In October 2001, Tarragon was selected through an RFP (request for proposal) process by the city of Kent to design and construct the project. Having built several other mixed use developments in the Seattle region, Tarragon was familiar with the demographics, permitting and regulation rules, and related issues in the area.
Kristin Jensen, senior development manager for Tarragon, has been working at Kent Station since April 2004 to oversee its development. During this time, she has seen firsthand the effect on the city of Kent.
“This is a very public project, and, as such, members of the community feel a great sense of ownership for Kent Station,” explains Jensen. “When the city council agreed to sell the site to Tarragon—at a price, which, while market rate at the time, was lower than the price the city originally paid for the land, it faced much criticism from the citizens of Kent. But, now that Kent Station is open and successfully operating, we have received only positive feedback from the community.
“That has been a relief to us,” continues Jensen, “since we are long-term property owners, and it is very important to us to have a positive relationship with the communities in which we work.”
Once it was awarded the project, Tarragon hired Seattle-based Callison as the architectural firm. The team there was given the assignment of producing a design that would enhance the existing character of the area, rather than infringe upon it.
Drawing on existing resources, the design of Kent Station also took into account the proximity of an existing commuter rail line. Operated by Sound Transit of Seattle, the rail station features an 860 stall parking garage. An agreement was reached to provide Kent Station patrons with free parking on the site. In addition, an open air parking lot was constructed on the retail site with a 700 vehicle capacity.
Taking The Indoors Out
Another characteristic of a lifestyle center is use of the outdoors in the character of the facility. As a result, the outdoor spaces at Kent Station consist of more than just functional sidewalks and roadways.
A 30,000 square foot plaza, which was designed to encourage people to gather and mingle, includes an outdoor fireplace and a large fountain. Free Wi-Fi access is available in the plaza, further encouraging people to spend time and relax in the facility’s central spot.
Since Kent Station’s opening, the plaza has been the site of numerous public gatherings. Throughout the year, visitors can enjoy concerts, festivals, and events sponsored by the retailers. Adhering to the vision that Tarragon and city officials had in mind, Kent Station has given area residents a new “center of town.”
Says Hinds, “The atmosphere that has been created here is great. On Friday nights, people go to the movie theater; kids play out on the plaza. It has become a very nice place to gather and socialize.”
“The involvement of community is my favorite aspect of this project,” says Jensen. “It’s great to see the mix of people that enjoy the space, including children playing on the grass, couples sitting by the fireplace, and families heading into the theater.”
Safety and security are paramount in a setting as public as Kent Station, and the addition of concerts and other organized events require it even more.
“We have a summer concert series that draws significantly more people than usual,” says Hinds. “We add extra security for these events to provide more presence. We also work closely with the local police department to add an extra presence at these events, as well as in general.”
Because so much of the property is accessible to the public, keeping up appearances requires diligence. “There aren’t many back corridors, so we don’t really have a ‘back of house,’” Hinds explains. “The shops and restaurants are front and center. One of our challenges is to make sure tenants do not store boxes outside and create clutter. And we need to ensure the eateries perform extra cleaning measures when taking grease out to the grease bins, for instance.”
Keeping an eye on many moving parts is par for the course for most facility managers. Hinds seems to thrive on the task.
When asked to name his favorite aspect of managing Kent Station, Hinds names the diversity of people he works with, which keeps it interesting: “I have a wide range of responsibility. On a daily basis, I work with a variety of people—from business owners to our vendors to HVAC technicians. This keeps me busy, and I enjoy that. There are new challenges all the time.”
As Kent Station continues to evolve, Jensen notes that the community has welcomed having a new place to gather. With the plans for expansion and additional public events, the development can be expected to add vibrancy to the region for years to come.