Latest Easton expansion focuses on an edgy, urban vibe

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After 4 million square feet of retail and entertainment space, Easton is ready to go big.

Its developers envision a dense town, with apartments, offices and high-rises, emerging around the Easton Town Center shopping and entertainment district.

"The next round of development will be 20- or 40-story buildings, a combination of office and residential, condos, or complete mixed-use buildings with a hotel, residential and commercial," said Leslie H. Wexner, founder of Easton and chairman of L Brands.

"The biggest shift is Easton will become denser and more vertical. We see it as more of an urban neighborhood, not a suburban shopping center."

About 200 of Easton's 1,300 acres have yet to be developed, allowing for a lot of change. (Easton Town Center now covers about 90 acres.)

The first hint of Easton's future is underway, with a $500 million, 16-acre expansion on the north end of the shopping center called the "Urban District."

Like the rest of Easton, the district will feature shops and restaurants, including True Food Kitchen, along with a Restoration Hardware Gallery store and Arhaus furniture. But visitors shouldn't expect to see a lot of new retail at Easton after that.

"If you think about Easton in a broader sense, with Easton Gateway and Easton Market, we have about 4 million square feet of retail space at Easton, about the size of the Mall of America," said Adam Flatto, president and chief executive officer of the Georgetown Company, one of Easton's developers. "I don’t see a huge retail expansion in the future."

Instead, the Urban District signals a move to expand Easton's offerings beyond traditional retail into edgier terrain and non-retail uses.

The district will include some venues designed to create a Short North vibe: Forbidden Root Brewing; the Beeline Bar; Ivan Kane's Forty Deuce Cafe and Speakeasy bar, which will feature a burlesque show; and a Pins Mechanical, the popular pinball/duckpin bowling bar that is off-limits to children in the evening. Adding to the urban feel: an industrial-style design on some of the buildings and a parking garage instead of a parking lot.

Also planned for Easton's newest area: an Aloft boutique hotel and apartments.

Easton plans to build up to 750 apartments in the Urban District that will, for the first time, truly incorporate residences into Easton Town Center. For Easton's developers, the move is a big step toward taking Easton beyond shopping and eating.

"We're really excited about the residential push and see considerable focus on that and other product types," Flatto said. "Offices will continue to grow, and we'll continue to expand our hotel offerings."

Easton is billed as a mixed-use development, but the mixes have largely been distinct: Office buildings and the Easton Commons apartment complex are separated from the Town Center shopping district by major roads.

Going forward, Easton's developers plan to change that. The future of Easton, they say, lies in compactness.

"The big difference is, new development will be a much higher level of density," Flatto said. "Land is a precious commodity for us now. Every acre of that land is precious."

As a way of illustrating the dense future, Yaromir Steiner, the third developer of Easton Town Center, points out that the 16 acres under development on the north end of Easton will include about 1.3 million square feet of buildings — as much as all of Easton Town Center's first and second phases combined.

Steiner sees "thousands" of new residences in Easton's future, many of them filled with the 30,000 people who work in Easton's offices.

"We want to detach ourselves from a commercial district," said Steiner, chief executive officer of Steiner + Associates. "We want to become a neighborhood."

Wexner likens the next phase of Easton to the areas around Lenox Square in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta or South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California — dense midtown neighborhoods of high-rise office and residential buildings around a shopping core that allows residents and office workers to serve all their needs without getting into a car.

Wexner, Steiner and Flatto also expect changes in what visitors now find at Easton. Flatto sees the surface parking lots that dot Easton as "just building pads waiting to be built on."

As retail developers, they know the retail world constantly evolves, and is changing now at lightning pace. Steiner expects far more retail turnover to come at Easton, and more short-term leases.

"Easton has changed continuously," he added. "We never stopped. We're always looking for newness."

Wexner isn't exactly sure what Easton will look like in 10 or 20 years, but he knows what he wants to hear.

"If we’re right in what we’re doing, what we’ll hear is, 'God, it got better' or 'I’m surprised, this got better,' " Wexner said. "It will have to. If it stays the same, it will only get worse. The kind of thing we’re doing requires constant change."