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Park Lane, in northeast Dallas, is transforming a once-dying area...
Tempe Gateway, located in downtown Tempe, Ariz., will feature 260,000...
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Call it what you will: smart growth, new urbanism, high-density development. The concept of sustainable, urban villages with an added transportation component—coined “transit-oriented developments (TODs)” by the commercial real estate community—is gaining favor not just with tree-huggers, but also is being embraced by mainstream developers and tenants.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute (ULI), transitoriented development “as an approach to combattraffic congestion and protect the environment has caught on all across the country.” The trick, says ULI, is to identify the hot transportation system. “Today, highways are out,” according to ULI, “and urban transit systems are in.”

UrbanDesign.org , a group based in Alexandria, Va., is lobbying for a national high-speed rail system as part of its “New Deal National Rail Plan 2009” proposal. The plan calls for high-speed train lines connecting central cities into a web of train lines across the nation.

Lest you consider all of this future-speak, California is already headed down the track. The California High-Speed Rail Authority, a planned $42-billion, 800-mile system of bullet trains linking the state’s Bay Area with Southern California and the cities in between, is gathering steam. In the November 2008 election, Californians approved Proposition 1A, or the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century. Estimates are that the train system would be completed in 2030, and that it would take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

In the Midwest, transportation officials are pushing a plan to connect cities in nine states in a hub-and-spoke system centered in Chicago. The expansion is supported by President-elect Barack Obama.

And Congress passed legislation in October that sets a goal of providing $13 billion over five years to Amtrak, a vote of confidence for the railroad. The measure also promotes development of high-speed rail corridors and contains $2 billion in grants to states to enhance or introduce new service between cities.

By all accounts, the future is now—and developers are taking heed.

“Rail station areas in suburbia and the inner ring are attracting higher-density residential developments in small, city-like environments,” said Robert Dunphy, a senior fellow in transportation and infrastructure for ULI. Along with the residential comes the retail.

Mockingbird Station, in Dallas, was the first mass-transit-oriented project announced in North Texas. The original developer opened lofts and office and retail space around the Mockingbird light-rail station in 2001. Additional phases, including significant retail, have been ongoing.

Other existing TODs that have successfully merged mixed-use projects with substantive transit, said Dunphy, include Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles, which sits above the Metro Red Line subway, and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, which features the first urban multi-level Target in a mall built above the Long Island Rail Road and the New York City Subway.

Not every project billed as a TOD actually is one. Rather, they are TADs—or transit-adjacent developments. These, said Dunphy, are urban villages that overcome to some degree the automobile-dependence of their predecessors by building next to, or near, transit.

But if the transit isn’t on-site, it isn’t a TOD.

“Sites need to be selected with transit in mind,” said Dunphy. “Transit works best if it is built in from the beginning, rather than retrofitted after the fact.”

Ideally, he added, local plans should designate high-priority transit centers in conjunction with planned expansion by local transit agencies—“with everybody on board,” Dunphy said.

Three new TODs are highlighted here, each in a different area of the country and all designed to incorporate a strategic mix of uses—and connect the uses to an on-site transit station.

Park Lane, Dallas: At 2.5 million sq. ft. spanning five city blocks, Park Lane is an example of an urban-renewal project that is perfectly suited for a TOD. Developed by locally based Harvest Partners, the mixed-use development is transforming a once-dying area in northeast Dallas into an urban village around a commuter rail station of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).

Phase 1 of the high-rise Park Lane complex is slated to open in spring 2009, and will include significant retail, despite the fact that the mammoth NorthPark Mall is just across the North Central Expressway. “Because we are fortunate to be in the shadow of one of the most vibrant malls in the country, we knew that we couldn’t own fashion,” said Tod Ruble, partner of Harvest Partners. “But we knew we could attract important tenants.” Harvest Partners secured Whole Foods and Sports Club/LA-Dallas as anchors.

“Once Whole Foods is open, people in the uptown residential area can ride DART to work, go to the health club, and stop at Whole Foods on the way home,” said Ruble. Other retail uses that also work well in a TOD, according to Ruble, include service-oriented businesses such as salons, dry cleaners and apparel. “As long as the purchase is manageable to carry on a train, the retailer is suited to a TOD,” he said.

Park Lane will be a city in itself. Built in phases, the project will feature 700,000 sq. ft. of retail, 600 residential units, and about 800,000 sq. ft. of office. “This is a true mixed-use, layered vertical project in an authentic urban setting,” said Ruble.

Tempe Gateway, Tempe, Ariz.: Downtown Tempe is building a high-profile TOD of its own, and the sustainable attributes are many. Tempe Gateway, developed by Phoenix-based Opus West Corp. on land committed by U.S. Airways, will be located at a primary downtown Tempe stop along the new Valley Metro Light Rail, which in December opened its first 20-mile section of the electric-powered train system. The eight-story, 260,000-sq.-ft. mixed-use project will combine downtown entertainment, retail and office amenities with environmentally efficient design and construction features.

“Cities are highly attracted to projects such as Tempe Gateway,” said Jeff Roberts, VP of real estate development for Opus West. “You have live-work-play in one development, and the transit component reduces the traffic congestion.”

Retail, said Roberts, is an important part of the TOD mix. “Most TODs give you a reason and an opportunity to have ground-floor retail that is more sustainable and leasable,” he said. Five leases are currently under negotiation, though no tenant announcements can be made yet.

Twenty-five thousand sq. ft. of retail will have street or station frontage, offering retailers an active urban setting. Completion is slated for early 2009.

Waterfront Station, Washington, D.C.: Forest City Washington’s Water-front Station development in downtown Washington, D.C., is a major urban mixed-use in-fill with an existing Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metrorail) station on site. “The original project was primarily office and retail of about 1.4 million sq. ft.,” said David Smith, development manager for Washington, D.C.-based Forest City Washington, which is partnering with Bresler & Reiner Inc. and Vornado/Charles E. Smith on the project. “It was a monolithic site with a huge mall on 13 acres, with the Metro at the southern edge.”

As part of the redevelopment of the former site of Waterside Mall, Forest City is restoring what was once blocked access to 4th Street, allowing bus access, designing in bike lanes and improving the traffic factor. A new pedestrian orientation has added to the sustainability of what will be a 2.5 million-sq.-ft., mixed-use development atop the Waterfront-SEU Metrorail station.

“Waterfront Station is designed for walking through the site, from the two residential towers to a brand-new theater complex, plus, of course, allowing foot traffic to the Metrorail,” said Gary McManus, director of marketing.

A minimum of 110,000 sq. ft. of retail—which could swell to as much as 150,000 sq. ft.—will include a Safeway supermarket, CVS/pharmacy and other retail tenants. At full build-out, Water-front Station is expected to include 1.2 million sq. ft. of office, 1,000 residential units and up to 150,000 sq. ft. of street-front retail and restaurants.