SARASOTA, Florida - At a glance, the Mall at University Town Center, the largest shopping mall in Sarasota, Florida, embodies the typical features of a traditional US shopping mall.
Stepping inside, shoppers are greeted with a spacious layout, with rows of shops.
Taking a closer look, however, reveals several unique design elements. A 20-meter ceiling and a continuum of glass sunroofs naturally light up the building, creating a warm, cosy ambience for shoppers.
Its minimal use of columns also gives the entire mall an open, atrium-like feel.
Evolving from existing malls in the US, this Sarasota-based mall, developed and constructed by the US-based shopping mall operator Taubman Centres, breaks away from the stuffy shopping experience offered by big, boxy buildings.
Taubman Centres chairman Robert S. Taubman (second from right), Shinsegae Property vice president Lim Young-lock (left) and UTC Mall general manager Octavio Ortiz (right) speak to reporters inside the UTC Mall in Sarasota, Florida, Friday. Photo: Shinsegae Group.
With the sky above and tropical trees and plants inside, the mall becomes a place where people can refresh themselves, be entertained and rest.
The mall in Florida offers a glimpse of what the upcoming Starfield Hanam shopping mall complex near the South Korean capital of Seoul will look like.
Built as a 51:49 joint venture by Shinsegae Group's real estate development unit and Taubman Asia and Partners, Starfield Hanam is geared to become South Korea's largest shopping mall. It will embody Taubman's core design elements -- only on a far larger scale and with added amenities and services to serve local needs, Shinsegae said. The retail giant plans to open Starfield in September.
Starfield Hanam is a $1 billion (S$1.3 billion) mega project being pushed by Korean retail giant Shinsegae as a new source of growth. It will become not only the country's biggest multiplex mall but also the first of its kind in Korea to offer a truly Western-style mall experience, said Taubman Centres chairman Robert S. Taubman.
"It brings to one location a truly western-style (mall) experience in the largest form for the first time ever in Korea. It takes the best of Korean retailing and the best of Western planning and marries them together," Taubman told reporters in a press conference in Sarasota last Friday.
The interior of Starfield Hanam scheduled to open in September. Photo: Shinsegae Group.
Featuring four aboveground and three underground floors, Starfield Hanam will house Shinsegae Department Store as its main anchor store on one corner, with Shinsegae's wholesale retailer E-mart Trader's as another core anchor location.
Among a range of facilities for entertainment, sports and relaxation, Starfield will offer a wide spectrum of shopping options ranging from renowned luxury labels and fast-fashion brands to stores selling accessories and baby goods -- all which have been strategically organised and situated for easy, simple and customer-centred navigation.
"Unlike competing malls, we have taken great care to systematically lay out the mall in the most simple and convenient way possible to best accommodate customers," Shinsegae Property vice president Lim Young-lock said.
In terms of its overall design, Starfield Hanam also echoes the UTC Mall's core design values in several key aspects. The Korean shopping complex flaunts a particularly tall ceiling -- 35 meters high -- with a flowing set of glass sunroofs that allow plenty of natural lighting into the facility. Likewise, Starfield has minimized its use of columns to maximise shopper mobility as well.
"Lighting is very important (to a shopping mall). It makes customers look good, feel good and happier as they walk through it. And Starfield Hanam will be filled with light and glass which enhances such light," Taubman said.
From the interior design to the specifics of the store arrangements, Starfield's layout is meant to ensure that customers feel relaxed and comfortable inside the building, Lim said.
"Starfield's future sales will essentially depend on whether local consumers continually return to the mall, which hinges on successfully creating a welcoming, relaxing space," said the Shinsegae executive.
As multiple rival shopping malls already exist in Seoul -- such as the Lotte World Mall in Jamsil, Times Square in Yeongdeungpo and the Coex Mall in Gangnam -- Shinsegae is betting on Starfield's diverse offerings, facilities and unmatched convenience to ensure that customers return.
"Unlike traditional department stores that attract customers mainly through sales promotions, a multiplex mall depends on its hardware (such as its facilities and layout) to continually attract customers," Lim said.
An outdoor pool inside Starfield Hanam. Photo: Shinsegae Group.
In building Starfield Hanam, Shinsegae sought to create an all-inclusive destination for not only shopping but for entertainment, relaxation, fine dining as well as sports, Lim said.
In addition to the abundance of shopping choices, Starfield offers an indoor water park, spa and an outdoor pool resembling the Marina Bay Sands Hotel's rooftop "Infinity Pool" in Singapore.
Starfield also prides itself on introducing Korea's first in-mall recreational sports park, the "Sports Monster," which includes an indoor court, a rock climbing wall, trampolines, a virtual e-sports park and an outdoor futsal field located on the roof.
The shopping complex also houses a movie theatre, an antique shop and a karaoke establishment equipped with some 50 rooms -- the first in the industry, according to Shinsegae.
The mall includes two main dining areas as well -- a European-style outdoor restaurant street offering premium Korean, Chinese, American, Japanese, Italian and Thai food, as well as a stylish indoor food court with a panoramic view of the mountains.
And all this is possible thanks to the sheer size of Shinsegae's new shopping complex, which sits on some 117,990 square meters of land in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province. Taken together, the entire mall is about the size of 70 football fields, Lim said.
Despite its remote location, Starfield strives to be an accessible shopping centre as well. Located at around 20 km from Gangnam of Seoul, it can accommodate some 6,200 vehicles at once -- an unprecedented scale for a Korean shopping complex.
The construction of Starfield Hanam was spearheaded by Shinsegae Group vice chairman Chung Yong-jin and his longtime vision to "create an amusement park-like shopping mall where visitors can eat, shop and enjoy themselves for the whole day."
The upcoming shopping multiplex, alongside Shinsegae's online shopping platform SSG.COM, together stand at the centre of Shinsegae's efforts to secure long-term growth for the group as the traditional retail business continues to decline.
It is set to directly compete with Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin's Lotte World Mall in Jamsil, Seoul, which boasts a mega movie theatre, an aquarium, supermarket, concert hall and a diversified shopping mall, not to mention the adjacent Lotte Department Store, Avenuel luxury mall and Lotte World amusement park.
"Starfield Hanam will become a one-of-a-kind 'shopping theme park' for shopping, recreation and a mini-vacation away from home," Shinsegae Group chairman Chung Yong-jin said in a statement.
"We expect the new mall to satisfy our customers' various needs, as it is the culmination of Shinsegae Group's retail know-how and strengths," Chung said.