Consumers no longer want shopping centers to be places just for quick trips to buy clothes or electronics. People of all ages now prefer spaces where they can enjoyably linger.
They want to shop, dine, and play.
As a master of what has become known as “experiential retail,” Birmingham, Alabama-based Bayer Properties knew its conversion of an old family farm in Lexington, Kentucky into a $156 million retail-centered mixed-use destination called The Summit at Fritz Farm needed a memorable, unique playground for kids. The playground had to reflect the local authenticity of the project.
Bayer hired Atlanta-based playground designer Cynthia Gentry to create a playground that would blend perfectly with the landscape planned by famed Lexington garden designer Jon Carloftis, best described as “farm chic.”
“The Summit at Fritz Farm has shops that are the most popular in retail now, along with unique, chef-driven dining, community events, and more. But we wanted to provide a sophisticated destination that fully embraces the history of the land as a family farm,” said Lindsay Bayer Shipp, creative director – brand & marketing strategist for Bayer Properties. “Cynthia took that idea and created a space that children love.”
The Summit at Fritz Farm opened in April with ample farm charm: greenspace; barn-wood accents; a collection of vintage agricultural equipment artfully displayed throughout the landscape; and the farm-themed play area, which has proven popular.
“I’m delighted it has been received so well. They gave me the term ‘farm chic,’ and that worked well for me. They introduced me to Lexington – drove me all over the place,” Gentry said, which helped her know the community she was designing for. “It may sound corny, but play design is not an analytical process, but a heart thing. I am an artist and a grandmother, and that helps shape my work.”
The Summit at Fritz Farm playground at a glance:
The space: A playground similarly shaped to home plate on a baseball diamond, with a base of 64 feet, two straight sides of 29 feet and two angles sides of 46 feet
The features include:
- A miniature barn
- Wooden farm equipment
- An arbor tunnel
- A bridge
- A grassy berm with a crawl-through tunnel
- “Loose parts” that children can use to build with Adirondack chair seating, including an oversized chair
- An oversized robin’s nest
The playground doesn’t have slides or swings, and Gentry said one adult who saw it remarked, “There’s nothing to do here.” That person may have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, she said.
“One of the problems with some playgrounds is that they are too prescriptive, but the playground at The Summit at Fritz Farm gives children a chance for their imaginations to bubble up,” Gentry said. “I was ecstatic that the Bayer people got that. They understood that play is child-led. I sat at a playground here in Atlanta one time with lots of fabulous equipment and watched as the kids instead ran up a hill and rolled down, over and over.”
What The Summit at Fritz Farm play area does have is a tunnel and berms, a wooden tractor and animals carved out of wood, a robin’s nest and bridge, plus much more.
“They have these fabulous old tractors on the property, but they are not safe for children to play on, and they are cordoned off,” she said. But knowing children would want to play on a tractor, Gentry designed a child-size wooden one, and the installation team built it.”
Gentry designed the playground to give young visitors to The Summit at Fritz Farm a fun experience, designed just for them.
“As a business decision, providing the play area gives people another reason to visit,” she said. “Bayer has taken what could be just a shopping mall and given the community a place that can be a part of their lives.”