Big Box Recreation + Redevelopment

A little over a year ago, Brian Bradner explained how the evolving target demographic of American business-to-consumer strategy has affected physical retail environments. As he explained, people simply aren't shopping in stores as often as they used to.

Communities that once successfully competed for big box retail stores – built upon the premise of lots of product with lots of variety – are now left in a lurch. The formula for successful consumer sales now incorporates less product, more testing, and seamless online purchasing. The retail box model imploded and can no longer be relied upon as a catalyst for a thriving local economy, leaving once-prime real estate scarred with vacant or declining shopping centers.


Setting the Stage

At the height of the great shopping center era, families appreciating the autonomy of suburbia were moving out of the city in droves, spawning the need for one-stop big box stores. What worked for decades is now being disrupted primarily by the millennials, a generation that stands 80 million strong and now represents the largest generation in America.

Their shift away from traditional baby-boomer preferences have led to huge influxes of inner-city living, highlighted by mixed-use buildings and repurposed retail. As developers and architects, we've begun looking at these decaying buildings and vacant sites in suburbia not as eyesores, but as economic redevelopment opportunities that contribute to making communities vibrant and the best place to live.


So What Exactly is Big Box Recreation?

For example, many grayfields, the land beneath big box retail stores, can be redeveloped into big box recreation centers. While my last blog discussed how these buildings can be anchors for redevelopment, it hardly touched upon the design formula that makes the community addition such a success.

Simply put, big box recreation centers are large volume spaces for sports, recreation, and events programming that put a heavy emphasis on balancing space and cost. Areas riddled with grayfields may not have access to the same funding available in other areas with stronger local economies, so being able to design two-pronged solutions is a top priority. Reducing the presence of walls and ceilings saves money and allows for flexibility and convertibility of space. Minimizing corridors increases efficiency for useable space and accessibility. The ability to support multiple sports, recreation, and events enables the center to be used year round.

This diverse sports, recreation, and events center is financially sustainable by extending opportunities across demographics. The need for big box recreation is becoming a new way of providing services to communities. The hurdle we're facing has less to do with successful applications, but educating community leaders about how these buildings are a solution that's bigger than just recreation. It's a community asset offering something to a huge margin of people.


History Repeats Itself

A recreation center will always be a fixture in our society, and it's our hope, as architects, that big box recreation can become community and regional attractions.