The New Resort

The New Resort San Diego Wall Graphic

 Urban corridors are transforming the vacation destination.

By Becky Stone

For a long time, “urban” probably wasn’t the buzzword that came to mind when referring to a vacation destination – and certainly not associated with a “resort.” Resort vacations used to conjure images of pristine beaches, rustic mountains and lakeside cottages where people felt they could get away from it all. Resorts were considered retreats, often associated with wealth and luxury.

Those resorts certainly still exist. However, the definition of a vacation destination is broadening – and it’s happening right before our eyes in an unexpected place: urban corridors and city centers. Often, these are the areas within cities that were considered attractive, trendy and desirable, back when shopping malls were in high demand and the cell phones looked like portable two-way radios. Sometimes, they are areas in a city that once teemed with factories or warehouses that have slowly emptied, sometimes standing vacant as old industries fade and new technology takes over.

As our tech gadgets, industries, economics and social behaviors evolve and change, so too do our urban landscapes. Shopping malls close down, former department store anchors began to shutter and once thriving city centers begin to look like ghost towns.

However, many cities are seeing the pendulum begin to swing back again. With the rise of adaptive reuse architecture, historical preservation and a fresh approach to making the old new again, city centers are getting their groove back. Today, high-end hotels, revitalized sports stadiums and independent restaurants are beginning to fill in the vacant shopping centers, old warehouses and outdated areas and turning them into hip entertainment centers. So much so, in fact, that these urban centers are becoming desirable again, attractive to locals and tourists looking for memorable experiences, family fun and even a taste of luxury.

None of this is by accident, of course. The goal is to get vacationers to arrive to these urban centers by offering the same luxury amenities and entertainment value they’d experience in a mountain or beach resort, but in a totally urban environment.

So, why is this working?

Cities Are Becoming Hip Again

The New Resort RiNo Street ArtVisit the River North Arts District in Denver (RiNo), and you’ll immediately notice the vibrant street art covering most major building facades along Larimer Street. A mere 20 years ago, most people probably would have called this graffiti “vandalism,” not art. Today, the painted murals and tasteful tags are considered part of what make this once industrial center now a vibrant, walkable and interesting part of the city. In recent years, high-end restaurants and boutique hotels have popped up in the area, along with new public transportation amenities, retail and nightlife, gaining national attention and inspiring trips from urban vacationers.

The Flats East Bank in Cleveland is another example of this urban revitalization. Destroyed by fire years ago, this waterfront area had been abandoned for years and is now home to office towers, hotels, residential units and a lively range of local restaurants and entertainment venues. The extensive riverfront boardwalk was reconstructed, resurrecting this area of Cleveland into a thriving part of the urban tapestry once again. This area of town is really a catalytic neighborhood that will help to promote Cleveland as a true urban waterfront city.

The Makers Quarters in San Diego is also a district to put on the radar for travelers who want to explore urban trends, incubator spaces and a creative community atmosphere. This area is inspired by the Maker Movement where time slows, things are more hand-made, authenticity is at the forefront of design and production, and collaboration is widespread. This new destination in what is also called San Diego’s East Village is making waves and is quickly becoming an example of downtown urban renewal inspired by local entrepreneurs and innovation.

Memorable Experiences Are More Important Than Ever

For some people, staring off into a starry sky or listening to the waves lap over a sandy beach is entertainment enough. Still, enough people are seeking stimulation in the form of live music, theater, arts and nightlife that city centers are making a comeback.

These days, people are interested in experiences – not just shopping in a mall. This redevelopment of the urban center is resulting in new, revitalized gathering spaces for people of all ages to visit and find something they like, whether that’s a trendy food hall with scores of different food options or a new stadium surrounded by walkable streets and thoughtful architecture that almost feels like its own neighborhood.

Sports Centers Are The New Downtown Anchors

The New Resort Atlanta 2Savvy city planners and developers are taking note that well-designed sports centers have the ability to pull estranged city dwellers back into the city, replacing tired and outdated shopping malls with experiential opportunities. This trend is taking hold in Sacramento, Calif., for example, where the Golden 1 Center, home to the Kings, has recently opened as the anchor to a $558 million redevelopment at the heart of the city.

A partnership between the Sacramento Basketball Holdings, LLC and the city of Sacramento, this revitalized downtown mall area is now being called Downtown Commons (DOCO) and is thriving with activity. This development adds 1.5 million square feet of office, retail, food and beverage, hotel and residential units that are activated by the 17,500 seats at the Golden 1 Center and the hundreds of events each year.

Atlanta provides another example where the new Atlanta Braves stadium, located in a multimillion-dollar entertainment district known as The Battery Atlanta, opened this spring and is revitalizing the old Cumberland area on the north side of Atlanta. Completed in 2017, The Battery is more than a place to watch baseball games. It’s a full entertainment complex complete with hotels, residential apartments, a cinema, restaurants and even co-working spaces. Architects and developers are working together to ensure that the spaces around the stadium feel like part of the experience.

In many ways, “the new urban resort” can be a windfall for a city struggling to regain its standing as a worthwhile destination. With a renewed sense of place, plenty of entertainment options and an experiential design to lead the way, you can bet we’ll be seeing more and more urban city centers reboot and re-emerge in a way that draws people back in, builds renewed interest and appeal, and jumpstarts not only urban tourism, but urban community.

Becky Stone is the managing partner at OZ Architecture and works primarily with hospitality and resort clients, as well as on multi-family and mixed-use projects. She is very active in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Recreation Development Councils both nationally and locally in Colorado. She is also on the ULI Global Awards of Excellence Jury. Stone can be reached at bstone@ozarch.com.

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