Crocker Park is 1.7 million square feet; 900,000 square feet of it is residential, 250,000 square feet is office space and 550,000 square feet is retail.
Stark says a lifestyle center is "all about the retail," and the East Side's Legacy Village, "by its name -- village -- and by its design, is a rip-off, it's a representation of a cutesy, mixed-use downtown environment. Only one problem -- that's not what it is. It's faux."
Stark says most lifestyle centers today are not as elaborate as Legacy Village. They are "strip centers with a little bit better finishes on it and leasing to a certain kind of tenant mix that has dubbed itself 'lifestyle retail.' ... You won't find any of those retailers here, and that's not what Crocker Park is about."
When it comes to residential space, Stark wants Crocker Park's apartments, condos, town homes and single-family homes to have the feel of "speaking over the front porch," and he envisions visitors going to this district to eat at the restaurants and hang out in the park areas.
"I'm all about creating special, and special is about aesthetic sensibilities. ... It's about evoking a positive warmth, a comforting emotional response from people about a place that they find themselves in," he says. " ... It's important that a bench be placed in such a way that it's connected to the things around it, and together they create a space. If you just put benches down so many feet apart from one another because that looks good on an architect's drawing, that has nothing to do with creating spaces that give people an opportunity to be at rest or at ease or to interact socially."
Stark has been testing his brand of social aesthetics at his Eton Chagrin Boulevard development. A chess park is being constructed at Eton, with plans for a larger version at Crocker Park.
"(It) brings to mind those parks in New York City where you see people playing chess with the clocks, and tournaments going on, or even the young people playing with older people," he says. "It's a wonderful, socially interactive, even spectator-oriented, endeavor that people really like, and we have no place to do it anywhere in Greater Cleveland."
Eclectic landscaping details like outdoor couches, antique benches and planters bring "a sense of delight" to a neighborhood, Stark says. Eton's perennial gardens are starting to come into their own, following in the well-established footsteps of the garden at The Promenade of Westlake, another Stark development.
"Crocker Park is an outdoor living room to the Nth degree," Stark says. "It gives people the opportunity to revel or to celebrate, to feel like they're on vacation in their own backyard. And that's a very important thing."
Stark calls Westlake's city leaders, "the highest level of professionals," and says they "get it." They go to the same seminars he attends, and have become educated about the nature of new urbanism so they can have input into the process.
The proof of this successful partnership is the widening of Crocker Road and the plan to connect Crocker to State Route 480. Stark says Westlake has "come of age" and, with Crocker Park set to open in October, will "probably move ahead of any other community in Northeastern Ohio as the ... most forward-thinking community in the area."
HOW TO REACH: Robert L. Stark Enterprises Inc., (216) 464-2860 or www.crockerpark.com
A 24/7 condition
Residents, office workers and shoppers have to live in harmony in a mixed-use community. Bob Stark discusses some issues he has faced while developing Crocker Park, slated to open this fall in Westlake.
* Reconciling demands. Crocker Park residents need privacy while being surrounded by shops and offices. They must also have easy garage access and not feel like visitors in their own neighborhood.
"You have a 24/7 condition, so you have to have lighting and security and conditions that are conducive to (a resident) walking their dog at 3 a.m.," Stark says. "The development doesn't close. It's truly an urban condition."
* Density issues. When planning residences above stores, Stark had to consider installing sound insulation between floors to please both parties. Flower pots on railings may make an apartment cheery, but walkers below may feel the effects of watering. These issues made Stark think like a city planning department dealing with its downtown.
"It required us to think about putting like opposite like, so the space above retail on one street is residential, and across the street from it we wanted other residential. We didn't want office dwellers peering into residential apartments," he says.
* Looking forward. Stark is considering bringing Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) to Crocker Park and to his Eton Chagrin Boulevard development to attract the younger generation.
"If the community becomes known as a place that is innovative, as opposed to a place that is conventional and boring, then we have a shot at maintaining our standard of living," he says.