I really didn’t think it was possible. I always did love the Back to the Future films, especially the second one when they traveled from 1985 to October 21st 2015, which was just a few days ago as of this writing. So I had those old movies on my mind when Liberty Center opened in my neighborhood on October 22, 2015—one day after Back to the Future Day. I parked in the back parking garage behind the new movie theater a little displaced because for my entire life this area had been an empty field alongside I-75. I never imagined that anything of any importance would ever be where I parked my car on that sunny October day. I was meeting my family at the Rusty Bucket but wasn’t quite sure where lead to where, so I made my way south until I found the main road which ran through the center of the complex. It was ironically just like the scene in Back to the Future II, where I came out of an alley into the hard sun of a fall afternoon and the future hit me right in the face. It looked just like Hill Valley from that famous movie series, square and all.
Short of hover boards and flying cars, it was the future as I never would have imagined it. The stores were modern versions of the type I grew up with, but the way they were presented were very tech heavy and architecturally specific. Living space was stacked in creative ways to make a dynamic world that really has not been possible before in any other shopping experience I’ve ever seen. As I thought of some of the places I’ve been, such as Downtown Disney, La Isla in Cancun, or the Americana in Glendale, California, nothing was like what I saw at Liberty Center in my hometown. It was more astonishing than I thought it would be. The reason we ate at the Rusty Bucket was because it was next door to the Cobb movie theater which is extremely important to me. I wanted to talk to the owners about some upcoming plans, and that was why my family was there on opening day. It was as nice as I would have imagined a luxury theater to be that has made its mark in Tampa, Florida where another shopping destination that I love a lot, The International Mall is rather common.
As a guy, I don’t like shopping very much—my wife does, but I don’t like the task of actually shopping. I do love the exhibition of capitalism, especially when it’s as openly unapologetic as it is at Liberty Center. As I’ve said many times, I have a soft spot for developers because they are often the first cogs in the wheel toward economic development. Because of their creations money moves through an economy and in an age where the shopping experience is competing directly with online sales, something new has to be tried, and they did at Liberty Center—a long time in the making.
Yes they have an Apple Store. Yes, they have a really nice Victoria’s Secret which is good for me and my wife. She likes the quality of that store and it makes me happy to see her happy. Yes they have a number of upper crust restaurant experiences. Looming over the square I was in was a large facade of a Marriot hotel looking down into the action below. It replaced the clock tower in the Back to the Future film regarding iconic skyline. As I hiked and drove the back roads that used to pass through that location way back in 1985 I never would have imagined that in 2015 there would be terraced gardens exotic fountains, and advanced shopping destinations in such a place, unless I could have been placed into a time machine and shown first-hand.
And that’s where my family found me, they were perched above the shops on a patio waving to me to come up and join them in the sun. Step for step I felt just as Marty McFly when he first saw Hill Valley in 2015. It was a strange experience that I couldn’t have anticipated even as I watched them build the place brick by brick. Liberty Township instantly had a downtown district that was every bit as cultured and sophisticated as any of the big cities of America or the world for that matter. As I thought of the countless hours I’ve spent around Fountain Square in Cincinnati on business and pleasure surrounded by skyscrapers and dozens of neatly tucked restaurants situated everywhere, the rural community of Liberty Township had instantly built for itself a downtown that looked big time, but was small enough to still have the feel of a tight-knit community.
If engineers designing living conditions for intergalactic space travelers had to design something that divided function, luxury, and necessity into an all-encompassing package Liberty Center would be it. It was small and enormously large all at the same time and surrounded shoppers with an all-encompassing experience. People walked the streets without worrying about prostitutes and beggars—which is impossible in most big cities these days totally ruining the experience of economic frivolity. A quick trip down Times Square in New York or the strip in Vegas as a couple out for a night together means you are often molested by whores and malcontents. Vegas is terrible for that kind of thing. Times Square is nearly as bad. Liberty Center was free of that mess—but it had all the good things left behind. It was for all matters of thought a conservative utopia. If John Galt had built a shopping center, this is what he would have designed, from the famous novel Atlas Shrugged. It had all the plus elements of an economic development without all the trash created by liberal city governments who mismanage their downtowns into a trash heap of mixed values and nonsense. Liberty Center was built for people who like the good life, and know how to live it.
I heard up to his opening that Liberty Center would essentially be a carbon copy of The Greene in Dayton, or Newport on the Levy in Northern Kentucky—but it was obvious that it was different right from the start. It was the infusion of sophistication mixed with rural charm that really is unequal and reminded me almost of a movie set, something that is common at Universal Studios where complicated streets change the whole feel of a place just one block from a previous position. Clearly the designers had learned something from those entertainment complexes in Florida as far as space utilization where geographically the terrain may seem simple, but architecturally a visitor might feel like they had visited a new world getaway by the time they walked from one end to the other.
It was special more for me because I picked just the right spot to walk in at just the right time of day to nearly simulate a Back to the Future moment. As I stepped onto a sidewalk out into the Center square a car went by, a modern looking Cadillac nearly on queue with the events of when the same thing happened to Marty McFly. All that was missing were the flying cars and the holographs, but that technology isn’t that far off, and Liberty Center looks staged up to take advantage when it does hit the market. On one end was an enclosed mall that led to Dillards and Dick’s Sporting Good, both marvelous stores in their own right. At the other a Marriott hotel and a gorgeous movie theater that really was designed in one of my dreams—and in the middle was everything else.
It was for me, the future.
Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman