Property analysis - Leisure lies at the heart of retail centre development

For more than a decade, property investors have wrestled with the issue of mixing retail and leisure. Entertainment is undoubtedly an integral part of the retail mix, but how can shopping centre owners encourage more crossover between attractions such as cinemas and mainstream retailing?

A round-table discussion hosted by the South African investor Old Mutual Properties in Cannes tried to find a way forward. Old Mutual has been particularly successful at injecting leisure attractions into its shopping centres in South Africa - most recently with the spectacular Wave House surfing attraction at the Gateway shopping centre in Durban.

Huge pumps push 265,000 gallons of water a minute to create a permanently-breaking wave nearly 10 feet tall. Bars and restaurants overlook the attraction and trade long into the night as crowds gather to watch the surfers. And the leisure mix is complemented by an IMAX cinema and the city's largest climbing wall, so 40 per cent of the shopping centre's floorspace is given over to leisure.

Water power

'In a city with a big surfer community, the Wave House is just as powerful an anchor as a department store,' says Old Mutual Properties chief executive Ian Watt. But he concedes that such a strong leisure element has changed the way the centre trades. 'Peak pedestrian flow in Durban is between 9pm and 11pm and at that time people shop in a different mode.'

Leisure attractions are equally an integral part of the mix in Portugal at Sonae Imobiliaria's stable of shopping centres, like the massive Columbo scheme in Lisbon. Chief executive Alvaro Portela says now he wouldn't dream of building a centre without a cinema or other leisure element.

'When we first went into shopping centre development, we took the view that leisure was too expensive - it was a marginal thing. But now we know that, to get our schemes going financially, we need leisure.'

Portela says that by adding a cinema to the Shopping Cascais scheme on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital, Sonae was able to drive a 20 per cent increase in the centre's turnover.

So why has it proved so difficult to combine retailing and leisure in the UK? Simon Berry was involved with the genesis of the Xscape indoor ski concept for Capital & Regional, and he points the finger at retailers.

'In the UK, retailers have resisted the injection of leisure into shopping centres because they perceive it will add to their service charge costs,' he says.

And Insignia Richard Ellis director Keith Harris, who has advised on the Heron City chain of leisure schemes, has found it difficult to win over retailers. 'Research from the Urban Land Institute in the US showed that bookstores trade up to 50 per cent better alongside a cinema, but even with that research it's been very difficult to convince European booksellers,' he says.

But John Sullivan of the Australian leisure consultancy Ozseeker feels this has driven UK retail and leisure schemes into exclusive 'ghettos' to the detriment of both, when, in fact, there are opportunities for both sides to trade off each other. Birmingham is a case in point. 'Star City is failing because it lacks retail,' he says. 'But at the same time, I think the Bullring is going to be a rather sterile environment because it lacks leisure.'

Outlet combinations

For this reason, Berry believes that shopping parks and outlet centres might have the greatest potential for combining leisure with shopping, something Capital & Regional is now trying at its Junction retail parks.

Joey Kaempfer, chief executive of Europe's top outlet mall operator McArthurGlen accepts that his schemes could benefit from more leisure. 'Our approach has always been that shopping is leisure,' he says. 'But since we have started adding cinemas to the mix, we have found that they extend the trading hours into the evening, as well as helping to leverage the cost of providing 1,000 car parking spaces.'

Certainly, the Bluewater mall in Kent is considering increasing its leisure representation, so, perhaps, the UK is finally waking up to what the rest of the world learned long ago - shopping and having fun are not mutually exclusive experiences.