Generations after people deserted cities for the suburbs, young millennial-generation adults and older baby-boomer adults are moving back downtown.
Retailers aren't far behind, and new, seemingly instant neighborhoods — complete with housing, retail, offices and other forms of real estate — are springing up in redevelopment areas of cities across the country.
"You always want to chase population growth," said Robert Volosin, a partner in Mahwah, N.J.-based Supermarket Consulting Group. "Now growth has shifted back into urban neighborhoods, and that is where retailers are going."
Going to town in Durham
Jacksonville, Fla.-based Regency Centers Corp., in partnership with Raleigh, N.C.-based Chartwell Property Group, is currently developing the 89,901-sq.-ft. Shops at Erwin Mill, which is anchored by Harris Teeter.
Located at Ninth Street and Hillsborough Road in Durham, N.C., the Shops are the retail component of a mixed-use development spanning two city blocks near Duke University.
The entire area is roaring with construction. The retail development at Erwin Mill includes components running from Hillsborough around the corner onto Ninth Street. The 53,000-sq.-ft. Harris Teeter is going up on Hillsborough, a cluster of shops is rising at the corner, and several streetfronts have appeared on Ninth.
Chartwell is also renovating the four-story Erwin Mill building, a historic textile mill, which will include apartments and offices. Two multifamily buildings are underway, as is a 125-room Hilton Garden Inn, and a 26-story high-rise has been completed.
"The $100-million multifamily, office, hospitality and retail development testifies to the interest in downtown living today," said Chris Widmayer, VP investments with Regency Centers. "We've seen this kind of interest in densely co-located retail, residential and office in a lot of properties. It is a trend that we're seeing everywhere."
While the project is still under construction, a number of retailers have signed on. Regency is combining national, regional and local names to play to the market.
Now the suburbs want in on the urban trend
Several years ago, Fairfax County, Va., released a zoning overlay of a 27-acre site in Merrifield, Va. The site included an old movie theater and auto repair shop. The overlay caught the attention of EDENS, the Washington, D.C.-based community-oriented retail developer.
"We saw tremendous possibilities," said Steve Boyle, managing director, EDENS. "Fairfax is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and the site was adjacent to a 100,000 car-per-day intersection near the Washington Beltway and Tysons Corner, which has 27 million sq. ft. of office space."
The overlay aimed to test a solution to a big problem. Every day, the population of Tysons Corner exploded from 19,000 to 100,000 as commuters drove to work, clogging the roads all day long.
Fairfax County's solution: urbanize Tysons Corner with retail and, crucially, affordable residential to complement the offices. If more people lived in Tysons Corner and walked or took transit to work, traffic congestion would abate.
The overlay site in Merrifield would test the concept.
The county plan envisioned an urban landscape with vertical integration, parking decks, upper-floor retail, office, residential and a pedestrian-friendly environment.
"We planned a curated mix of interesting retail — locals, regionals and nationals — and architecture that created an urban neighborhood," continued Boyle.
EDENS brought partners into the project. Target would participate in the retail development. LodgeWorks Partners would lead the hospitality effort. Avalon Bay and Mill Creek would develop apartments, and EYA would build townhomes.
The partners wove together a community and named it Mosaic. With more than 1.9 million sq. ft., Mosaic is a LEED Silver certified urban neighborhood.
It has 500,000 sq. ft. of national, regional and local retail and restaurants. Angelika Film Center & Café, two parks and additional open space for neighborhood festivals, performances and gatherings add entertainment value.
Residential includes 1,000 units, 112 LEED-certified townhomes and a 148-room boutique hotel. The office side features 73,000 sq. ft. of Class-A office space and 4,000 parking spaces.
Voila: instant neighborhood.