Mixed-use isn’t news, but it continues to make headlines anyway. After a several-year period when ground-up building has ranged from sluggish to practically non-existent, a number of mixed-use projects are beginning to stir with renewed life as leasing gains traction once again.
Part of the reason for the rekindling of the format is the amenities it offers and the convenience-oriented tenant mix. Chain Store Age talked with four mixed-use developers about the leasing and design strategies they employ that assure their projects not only get built, but have staying power.
Leveraging the neighborhood: “Mixed-use today entails not only the amenities on-site, but also those in close proximity to the center,” said Howard Paster, president of St. Paul, Minn.-based Paster Enterprises, developer of the mixed-use project Mendota Plaza, in Mendota, Minn.
In fact, Paster added, those nearby uses and amenities can be leveraged to expand a retail project into a mixed-use development. “Many of the mixed-use opportunities that you see today are regular development sites in which component layers are added,” he said.
For example, a savvy shopping center owner might have a retail shopping center site and change some elements of that center to integrate it into the adjacent uses, linking them physically or making them more accessible. “Or you might examine the nearby uses and allow them to influence the center’s direction,” Paster said. For instance, if office buildings surround a shopping center, an owner might pay more attention to those office uses and consider what the worker population might need.
“Focusing on what those consumers need, such as restaurants and pedestrian accessibility, will allow a developer to make a property more relevant,” he said.
Go big or go home: Then there are the projects that are so massive that they, in essence, create a city within a city. Take The Wharf, for example, Washington, D.C.-based Madison Marquette’s planned neighborhood-style development with a mix of uses designed to make the D.C. waterfront a near 24-hour destination.
For The Wharf, “We are developing a mile stretch of waterfront just footsteps from the National Mall and one of the most transit-accessible locations in the city,” said Kurt Ivey, senior VP corporate marketing and communications, Madison Marquette. The project is already connected to the city’s underground subway system and bus line network, and Ivey said that Madison Marquette plans to enhance that accessibility by connecting the project to the city’s existing bike lane network, building better pedestrian access to/from the National Mall and welcoming the arrival of the city’s new trolley car system.
Groundbreaking is anticipated for 2012, and Madison Marquette is prepping the area for the project’s arrival. “We have already begun a robust programming schedule to reintroduce the waterfront to the city,” Ivey said. “Our activities include a weekly farmers market, live music nights, local food truck round-ups, seasonal festivals and free outdoor fitness classes.”
The Wharf’s offerings of best-in-class local and regional retail and dining concepts are designed to reflect the Washington, D.C., culture. But more important is that the project connects to the surrounding community; provides transit and accessibility; adds amenities and programming that keep visitors engaged; and layers in a mix of local, regional and national concepts. “Established operators are important for > getting a project out of the ground, while unique and unproven concepts are equally important for creating that compelling sense of place that resonates with the local community,” Ivey said.
Creating a sense of place: The expression “place-making” may be overused, but the concept will never grow old. In fact, the 10-year-old, 1.7 million-sq.-ft. Easton Town Center, in Columbus, Ohio, built its decade-long reputation on place-making — and the results are self-evident.
“For all of its brick-and-mortar appeal, Easton’s success has been more about ideas than blueprints,” said Yaromir Steiner, CEO of Steiner + Associates, which co-developed the project with The Georgetown Co. “The truly innovative foundational concept is that a ‘town center’ is not just an architectural design concept, but part of a defining social contract.”
That “sense of place” is no accident; the developers actually used storyboards to help plan Easton, and design themes from a range of eras create variety and a sense of a town that has evolved naturally over time. But behind the brickwork and period signage that give the project its signature Americana feel lies a very contemporary perspective and sophisticated strategic vision.
“If you want a true community destination, you have to make room for the community,” Steiner said.
“There is no question that Easton is a fully realized mixed-use town center environment, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a work in progress,” he added. “It is that restless sense of ‘Can it be better?’ that has helped us maintain that feeling of dynamism and energy.”
Easton Town Center is anchored by Nordstrom, Macy’s and AMC Theatres — featuring 180 stores and restaurants in all — along with significant office space and three hotels.
Incorporating community and sustainability: Successful mixed-use projects create not only a community that strategically blends various types of users, but they introduce a level of sustainability not found in other formats.
“By their very nature, mixed-use plans place homes, offices, shops and restaurants all in close proximity, fostering a ‘walk-ability’ that is not possible in settings that keep the various uses separated by streets and by distance,” explained Rob Wetherald, VP development for Peoria, Ill.-based Cullinan Properties Ltd., developers of the 1.4 million-sq.-ft. Streets of St. Charles, near St. Louis. “As people choose a greener and more sustainable lifestyle, mixed-use developments offer a way to live those goals by eliminating the need to drive to work or to run errands.”
The benefits of mixed-use, Wetherald said, transcend even the sustainability pluses. “Unlike other developments that segregate residential areas from business areas, mixed-use developments promote and encourage a neighborhood atmosphere. This is reinforced by the inclusion of common areas, amenities, signage and other elements that make for a cohesive design — referred to by urban planners as the ‘city within a city.’ ”
Cullinan’s Streets of St. Charles, currently under construction with Phase I opening in 2012, embodies all of the components of a successful mixed-use project — with some 250,000 sq. ft. of restaurants and retail, and 250,000 sq. ft. of office above and around the retail, as well as hospitality, a health club facility and a theater complex. “Streets of St. Charles will provide a 360-degree experience to retailers, offering a captive residential and office component with a highly sought-after daytime population,” Wetherald said.