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Flexibility And Placemaking: Arcadis’ Sarah Holstedt Speaks At Bisnow Event On Helping Seattle Retail Thrive


Despite economic uncertainty nationwide, Seattle’s retail market has been improving, thanks to more curated and flexible spaces to appeal to customers’ needs. Although the return to office — or lack thereof — has impacted retail in Seattle, worker foot traffic has increased to half of pre-pandemic levels, showing slow but steady progress in the downtown scene.

Arcadis, a design and engineering firm with a robust global retail design and planning practice, is taking a proactive approach to addressing how to make retail spaces more appealing to tenants.

“We partner with clients to understand them holistically with a deep dive process which enables us to understand their brand — who they are and who they are serving,” Arcadis associate principal Sarah Holstedt said. “By getting to know their consumers, products, consumer journey and operations, we are able to prioritize areas of impact to improve the consumer experience, both within the tenant spaces and within the larger development.” 

Holstedt will join other local commercial real estate leaders at Bisnow’s Seattle Retail and Hospitality Summit on Nov. 14 at the Embassy Suites Pioneer Square. Register here. She will be speaking on the Navigating Seattle’s Retail Market: Insights and Strategies panel. 

Bisnow spoke with Holstedt about trends in the Seattle retail market, her role at Arcadis and how the company plans to continue to meet tenant demands and remain a part of Seattle’s retail evolution.

Bisnow: What trends are you seeing in Seattle’s retail market?

Holstedt: Seattle, like other places across the U.S., has seen strength and growth in small-scaled and often locally owned or operated shops and restaurants. Neighborhood retail continues to be very strong because more people want to explore their walkable, local spots. 

Even though downtown is still struggling, tourist traffic downtown is returning to 2019 levels, and now we're focusing on getting more daily traffic. As the downtown daily community is re-established, a strong correlation between the needs of downtown residents, workers and visitors will be vital to the success of retail and neighborhood services coming back to life.

Bisnow: What inspired you to speak at Bisnow’s Seattle Retail and Hospitality Summit?

Holstedt: I'm excited to see how my colleagues connect retail to hospitality in the two panels because both sectors have synergy and play a part in how we can bring broader communities into a space together.  

My background has been in retail-centric development both domestically and internationally. We’re at the intersection of where community happens. At Arcadis, we're able to connect mixed-use, multifamily and retail in these communities in a holistic and welcoming manner. I think one of the ways retail has learned from hospitality is how to make clients feel welcome. 

Bisnow: Can you describe your role at Arcadis and how the company is helping retailers meet tenant demands? 

Holstedt: The studio I lead focuses on retail-driven mixed-use master plans and building designs in both the Pacific Northwest and in other thriving markets around the globe, so we usually work most directly with commercial developers. We also regularly partner with other local Arcadis studios that work directly with the tenants. 

Together, we can understand the demand from both sides. We know how retailers are making a smaller footprint to perform and communicate with developers who need specific spaces, such as ghost kitchens or more grab-and-go opportunities.

Bisnow: What are some ways that Arcadis is helping retailers innovate their physical space to drive foot traffic and attract customers?

Holstedt: Innovation for the retailers’ physical spaces comes in several different forms. Some high priorities right now are considering the full-cycle customer journey, adapting their new brand strategy, the flexibility of space, connectivity to their omnichannel systems, integration of sustainability and embracing the future 10 years out. It is important to determine the purposeful use of digital components and integrated technology for a holistic and enriching consumer experience.

For the new Petco test store we designed, the focus was to reflect their new brand mission: health and wellness for the pet and pet parent. We spent months refining their brand strategy and testing and piloting the consumer journey. Everything had to be pet-accessible and friendly down to the finishes, sounds and smell. Petco also decided to integrate more services such as vet, grooming, self-wash and a focus on nutrition. Through all the learnings, this design was able to cull the product down without loss on the ROI. After its reopening, this location became the top-performing store in their entire chain.  

Bisnow: How is placemaking helping to reinvent these retail spaces?

Holstedt: If you can create a space that feels like the place to be throughout the year, not just when it’s most active, the community takes ownership of it, whether it’s grabbing a quick meal and cup of coffee or bringing their kids to play. We need to think of retail environments as community hubs where people want to interact.  

By expanding the types of retail in these spaces, you're creating more interest and catering to more demographics as a whole. Well-designed space between the retailers helps to amplify the energy and increase the value of these locations where people can connect with others. 

Bisnow: What does Arcadis see for the future of retail in Seattle, and how will the company be a part of its evolution?

Holstedt: We pride ourselves on working with small businesses that are establishing their brick-and-mortar presence and experienced brands that are looking to retool their locations and offerings. We have also been integral in the master plan and redevelopment of Northgate, an example of placemaking that is driven by a sports venue and the vision of how to reshape that retail center into a true mixed-use, transit-oriented development.  

Arcadis is working to support the revitalization of downtown Seattle’s retail district through the repositioning of existing assets to provide more flexible retail leases and partnering with our existing tenant clients to introduce them to potential empty spaces for a more robust offering.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Arcadis. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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