Columbia Development VP Dotan Zuckerman on Fenton and Retail-Anchored Communities

By Published On: January 18, 20224.4 min read

To further Leverage.com’s mission of democratizing knowledge about commercial real estate, we started an interview series with all kinds of CREF pros: everyone from multifamily and medical to cannabis and construction. This time we connected with Columbia Development VP of Leasing Dotan Zuckerman.

Here’s how the conversation went:

A rendering of a Columbia Development's Fenton development.

Image provided by Columbia Development

Tell us about Fenton, your big upcoming development in North Carolina. Are there any exciting details or insights people might not find on your website?

Fenton is located along I-40 and Cary Towne Boulevard, a prominent interstate interchange inside North Carolina’s highly coveted Research Triangle. The first phase of Fenton will deliver approximately 345,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and entertainment space, 200,000 square feet of office space, a 175-key boutique hotel and The Allison, a 357-unit luxury apartment community that will begin pre-leasing in early 2022.

Fenton will create a community of culinary talent in Cary, with a restaurant lineup that includes chef Scott Crawford’s Crawford Brothers Steakhouse, Steve Palmer’s Italian restaurant Colletta, chef Michael Lee’s M Sushi, chef Ford Fry’s Tex-Mex restaurant Superica and whiskey bar Dram & Draught, a local favorite owned by Triangle residents Drew Schenck and Kevin Barrett. Additional offerings include Honeysuckle Gelato, CRU Food & Wine Bar and Sports & Social, which will open as the Triangle’s largest sports bar at 22,000 square feet.

The mixed-use community also features best-in-class retail offerings, including Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Athleta, Paragon Theaters, Arhaus Furniture, Sephora, Free People, Vestique, Southern Tide, Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, LunchboxWax, Zen Nail Bar, Club Pilates and Von Kekel Aveda Lifestyle Salon Spa. With the addition of three new tenants in November, including Vestique, Southern Tide, and Club Pilates, nearly 90% of the retail portion of the project is leased.

As one of the country’s largest ground-up, retail-centric, mixed-use projects underway, Fenton’s tenant lineup and the environment it will create is incredibly unique. We are excited to celebrate the grand opening of Fenton in April 2022. One of my favorite parts about the project is its signature design feature, Fenton Floors. I can’t wait to see the community discover the original art and tile designs around the property that share positive messages and artforms, right under their feet.

A rendering of a Columbia Development's Fenton development.

Image provided by Columbia Development

Are there any overlooked trends aspiring CRE investors should know about the markets you specialize in? We’ve heard plenty about Atlanta and Charleston, but not so much about Columbia and Raleigh.

Overall the Raleigh area is growing rapidly and maintains incredibly strong fundamentals. Global tech companies are also taking note of the Triangle and its growing and educated talent pool. Earlier this year, Apple announced its East Coast Hub would be based in Research Triangle Park — bringing $1 billion and 3,000 jobs to the state. Directly across from Fenton is the former Cary Towne Center site, which will soon be home to Epic Games’ 87-acre headquarters. The video game and software company is hoping to build 3.5 million square feet of office space, including a 200-key hotel room and retail space.

Fenton’s open-air retail component sets the tone for the entire mixed-use community, and our leasing team is thrilled to bring thoughtfully chosen, chef-driven restaurants to the area, a concept that is first for Cary and The Triangle. This will be a major differentiator from other projects in the market, and while it is the harder approach, it will make the project all the more successful down the road, as areas like Cary desire more local options instead of the usual chains.

Fenton will bring urban amenities to a suburban market, and we believe our tenant mix will create amazing synergy with the surrounding area and the people that live there. As a city populated with young professionals and more affluent customers, an urban, open-air shopping environment will be better welcomed by the community than another traditional, enclosed mall.

A rendering of a Columbia Development's Fenton development.

Image provided by Columbia Development

Will the pandemic change shopping center development forever, or will traditions take hold again as we enter the new normal?

Shortly after the pandemic began, many industry leaders predicted big changes to the retail industry (such as larger stores to allow for social distancing), but I don’t believe many of these trends will stick around. Now, more developments are turning their attention to landing private-label tenants to compete with online shopping. Additionally, stores that have a purpose behind them (i.e. Toms), often perform very well because consumers gravitate toward their socially conscious mission now more than ever. We are also seeing more consideration for curbside pickup and to-go orders, such as UberEats cubbies, drive-up parking and buy online, pickup in-store counters.

But these are all small changes. On a macro scale, “the new normal” for physical retail will undoubtedly bring more open-air shopping streets supported by other real estate uses overhead and around them, such as office, hotel and multifamily. While this trend toward retail-anchored mixed-use development began well before the pandemic, COVID-19 expedited it. I believe open-air, retail-anchored, mixed-use communities are the future of our industry.

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