The Legends at Sparks Marina destination retail center is the city’s hope to attract tourism and dollars — but how to brand itself when the project is barely getting started will be key to Sparks’ investment.
On Tuesday, Dave Claflin, vice president of marketing for RED Development, spoke at a luncheon in Reno for members of Public Relations Society of America and the American Marketing Association. He shared how RED has marketed its project and foreshadowed its success based on the results of its previous developments, including the Legends at Village West in Kansas City, Mo.
A project the size of The Legends at Sparks Marina, a 148-acre, $1.2 billion center with restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues doesn’t fit just anywhere, Claflin said. It starts by creating something unique for a community with the potential to attract tourism.
“I can’t stress enough how boring it would be if it were a cookie-cutter development of this size all around the country and we did them the same way,” Claflin said.
The key is to have different tenants, different mixes and different amenities, but the interest has to come from the potential tenants, about which Claflin said RED Development is very choosy.
“By delivering on promises and in many cases overdelivering on promises, we’re maintaining tenant relations so that we have tenants who come to us interested in being in a particular area and say, ‘Have you ever thought of being there?’ “Claflin said.
If several businesses show an interest in the same area, it helps get the ball rolling into what RED could do for that community, he said.
Design and timing are also important aspects to consider and how tenants achieve “symbiosis” by “feeding off each other,” he said. This has an effect on drawing in customers.
“When you’re about four to six months out (for Legends), you start focusing on the consumer,” he said. “If you focus on the consumer too early, ‘Aunt Jan’ gets in the car and wants to get down in the shop and it’s a pile of dirt. There’s no reason for Aunt Jan to be there. You want Aunt Jan to come in on grand opening and come back every day for the rest of her life,” he said to chuckles from the audience.
After describing what separates a destination retail center from typical shopping venues, Claflin answered questions from the audience. One person asked what the differences were between the Legends at Village West and the Legends at Sparks Marina in terms of marketing needs.
Claflin said Sparks holds the biggest advantage of having various groups that cater to tourism, such as the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority and the Economic Development of Western Nevada.
“They’re all doing their little niche and we’ve taken out ads in their publications,” Claflin said. “It’s another compare and contrast: In Kansas City, there’s 2 million people right next door. If things get slow, we go there (to attract customers). ...You guys have all these great venues for tapping into vehicles (to drive tourists to the area).”
Legends has generated a lot of positive feedback from the Sparks Marina, but not all have embraced its presence, especially those who feel it’s literally too close to home.
Sparks has had a few residents who have kicked up the dust on the project because of construction hours, especially those who live on the marina. Claflin said those people who have shown opposition to Legends have been relatively few and they will also receive a bonus in its construction.
“At the end of the day, the thing that will win out there is property values,” he said. “They may rather have had a park because they want a quiet lifestyle and they’re retiring, but their property value will go up.”
Even so, the project, which is slated to house many different tenants with unique products and was supposed to open this fall, has experienced some delays. Claflin said RED expects to complete Legends in June 2009. The Legends Bay Casino Resort Spa, the two-tower, 1,000-room hotel to be developed by Olympia Gaming, has been pushed back to open in August 2009.
The Legends project is being financed through a combination of Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue bonds, which hinge on the center’s ability to bring in tourist dollars, funds collected from a local improvement district and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bonds.
Claflin said despite the setbacks, “It’s a real testament to this project and how much people believe in this project – the tenants and the financing group, the (STAR) bond people – that we’ve been able to complete all this in this environment.”
Adam Mayberry, spokesman for the city of Sparks, said the Legends project has propelled the city’s own marketing efforts as well.
“On a global scale, the Legends project has really been a catalyst for a major rebranding effort of the city,” Mayberry said. “That’s what the Legends has really sparked because Legends is a destination development and we’re beginning to see a lot of destination venues in the city,” including the new whitewater park at Rock Park, currently under construction, and Golden Eagle Regional Park.
Mayberry said the week before Thanksgiving, the city will hold a week-long series of charettes to collect public and stakeholder input on rebranding the city. The new brand will be introduced in February, Mayberry said.
“It will enhance our economic development and put Sparks on the map, with Legends being one of the centerpieces of that brand, but this is a significant rebranding effort that the city hasn’t embarked on before,” Mayberry said.