Developers looking to reinvent their malls might check out the changes at Finland’s Iso Omena center.
“We have created a new town square. It’s a place to meet. A place to shop. A place to be entertained. It’s all under one roof,” said Marcel Kokkeel, chief executive officer of Citycon, the 28-year-old publicly listed developer that owns and manages Iso Omena and 50 other shopping centers in the Nordic and Baltic region.
Iso Omena, which opened on Sept. 24, 2001, has raised the bar for mall redevelopment, bringing over the past year a new array of dining, entertainment and sports experiences, as well as additional services and fashion shops.
Iso Omena is Citycon’s largest development involving the addition of 400,000 square feet to the existing 600,000 square feet. In terms of size, it’s atypical for the Citycon portfolio of shopping centers, which are generally in the 200,000-to-450,000-square-foot range. Yet it builds on the company’s core strategy of creating centers that meet everyday shopping needs and services complimented by a variety of food and beverage offerings, public services, leisure and entertainment activities and that are located in urban crosspoints linked to public transportation.
With 14.5 million annual visitors expected in the future, compared to the current 8.9 million as indicated on Citycon’s web site, Iso Omena has emerged as Citycon’s second-most visited shopping center, next to Kista Galleria in Stockholm, Sweden, which draws approximately 19 million annual visitors. Citycon is also planning to expand the 996,000-square-foot Kista Galleria by 150,000 square feet to bring more food, restaurant and fashion offerings.
However, Iso Omena is seen generating the highest volume of Citycon’s assets, and “measured by fair value, Iso Omena is Citycon’s largest asset,” Kokkeel said. Citycon’s web site lists Iso Omena generating 229.7 million euros in annual sales, or $246 million, but Citycon sees sales rising to 375 million euros or around $410 million.
Iso Omena’s first phase of expansion was completed last August; the second phase was completed last week. Iso Omena means “Big Apple” in Finnish.
With the expansion, a bowling alley, a relocated library rigged with computers and a recording studio, a Finnkino seven-screen cinema, and a children’s world with a play area, childcare facilities and kids shops, as well as Zara, Levi’s, Esprit, L’Occitane en Provence and Nespresso were added.
There’s also a huge new food concept called M.E.E.T, that was half-opened last August, and completed last week, bringing an international cuisine ranging from dim sum and ramen to artisan pizza and pasta, a Champagne lounge, a waffle bar, a sports bar and several cafés.
“In Helsinki, we developed a new food and beverage concept which we call M.E.E.T., which is short for meet, eat, entertain and enjoy it all together,” Kokkeel explained. M.E.E.T. includes 30 restaurants covering about 65,000 square feet, though there is a total of 50 restaurants and cafes covering about 86,000 square feet. It’s the first of its kind in Finland. We will roll out M.E.E.T. to other properties. Different foods from different nationalities are there, from fast food to fine dining.”
M.E.E.T is integral to Kokkeel’s vision to make Iso Omena “the vivid heart of Espoo” a fast-growing and affluent area in the Helsinki metropolitan area, about 15 minutes from center city. “That is why we have been building on the word ‘community’ as a key element in the concept,” Kokkeel said. “The new Iso Omena offers an integrated visitors experience to our customers. We bring together, alongside shops, all kinds of public facilities and services, like the library, healthcare, entertainment, education, casual and quality food and beverage. That encourages the public to go to the center as a natural meeting place close to their homes.”
Overall, footfall was flat last year at Iso Omena, but since the first phase opened in August, the center has shown a 30 percent increase.
“You need to offer scale and have population growth,” for malls to thrive, Kokkeel said. “People go to bigger cities. Smaller cities have declined in population. Everything which is small or non-urban will have hard times. Online retailing will double. Many centers are feeling the pressure for greater footfall and many people are buying the same amount, but the shopping is very targeted. The impulsive consumer is not there anymore.”
Coming later this year to Iso Omena: a Pikseli Arcade Virtual game studio and a Dudesons Activity Park for kids and adults with extreme biking, skate boarding, ice hockey and exercise areas. It’s Dudesons first urban center activity park. Also, the metro line is expected to connect to the center in August.
The center, which also houses two hypermarkets, a discount supermarket, drug stores and a 35,000-square-foot health center, is 98 percent occupied, according to Kokkeel.
“I’m dying for Uniqlo. Uniqlo represents the heart of who we are and what we want,” Kokkeel said. “Uniqlo is down-to-earth. The Nordic shopper doesn’t want to have too much that’s upscale. It’s not a show-off culture. Nordic shoppers are very functional. They prefer simple design. They want value for the money.”