Mixed-use magnet

Development that combines housing and retail helps to rejuvenate Burbank
August 11, 2010

When former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked about "beautiful downtown Burbank," only residents of the Los Angeles suburb could fully appreciate the humor. "In those days, there wasn't a downtown," says Susan Evans, the city's assistant community development director. "It was pitiful."

The downtown area of Burbank (population 105,000) is making a comeback, and a new block-square development that integrates housing and retail occupancies marks a significant milestone in the process. It was designed, constructed and developed by Glendale, Calif.-based Gangi Development Co. The 2.4-acre project site was previously an asphalt parking lot on which a discount store and a small restaurant were located.

"This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how mixed-use retail and housing can work together, particularly in an area like Los Angeles where housing and retail are seen as such separate elements that our cars have seemingly become the only option for mobility," says company President Frank Gangi.

Media Village includes 142 units of senior rental housing and, on the first level, 55,000 square feet of retail space. The housing component, known as "Silver Winds Burbank," consists of 119 one-bedroom units with an area of 483 square feet and 17 two-bedroom units with 914 square feet. The apartments surround a football-field-sized central plaza and gardens.

Two 60-ft. towers that are identifying features of the development, contain six 738-sq.-ft. apartments and retail tenants on the first level. Retail tenants include a 20,000-sq.-ft. restaurant/sports bar/night club, a 1,200-sq.-ft. furniture store and a 4,200-sq.-ft. steakhouse.

The bottom two floors are Type I concrete construction and the upper three stories are Type V wood-framed construction. The concrete provides a three-hour separation between the parking and the housing levels.

A distinct identity was created for the streetscape on each elevation of the development to correspond to its character. For example, a former alley bordering the south side of Burbank Village was turned into a paseo, and a colonnade is provided as an amenity for ground-level retail tenants along it. Tenants attracted to this area include a dance studio, which helps to draw attention to a passageway that does not have heavy pedestrian traffic. Other elevations face the Media City Center Mall, high-rise office buildings and mid-rise buildings.

The Media Village elevation that faces the mall features 55-ft.-wide plazas. They provide a contrast to the mall, which has no setback. The plazas have stepped, amphitheater-type seating that takes advantage of the change of elevation from street level. The sports bar tenant uses the plaza as an outdoor seating area.

An opportunity to socialize

Architect Mark Gangi, the company's vice president of architecture, notes that because all access balconies of Silver Winds face the courtyard, residents are "confronted with the opportunity to socialize."

He says that several other housing projects for seniors were studied prior to launching the project. Despite the Los Angeles area's moderate climate, they typically had double-loaded corridors. "I talked to some seniors who hadn't been outside for a really long time," he notes. "When you're in a double-loaded environment, it's much more difficult to socialize ... you lose touch with what's happening in the community." Gangi's company previously developed a 124-unit senior housing development in a more suburban setting in Lancaster, Calif.

A feeling of security is also important for an active senior housing facility. In this case, the retail component on the ground floor creates it, since the apartments are not directly accessible from the street. This contrasts with housing that requires fences and gates to provide security for ground-floor units, Mark Gangi notes.

Apartment rents range from $419 to $600 per month. Residents, who must be at least 62 years old, qualify if their income is not greater than 60 percent of the median income in Los Angeles County. The dual-occupancy nature of Media Village provides a diversified source of revenue: the housing component enjoys a high demand, while the retail market is more subject to fluctuation.

Beneath Media Village are three levels of public parking, constructed by the city, for 600 vehicles. A separate parking entrance is provided for residents.

The public parking component is part of an overall "park once" master plan, and is Burbank's first subterranean public parking facility. Although public parking is free in Burbank, the facility was designed to accommodate paid parking if such a change occurs.

An inviting parking facility

Subterranean parking facilities typically have uninviting and harsh entrances, a dark and disorienting interior environment and steep ramps. At Media Village, the parking entrance is two stories high and has integrated identification signage. The entrance also has openings to let natural light enter the garage to provide a gradual light transition from outside to the interior. The garage walls are painted white to provide a high level of reflectivity.

Apartment residents can walk to stores, restaurants and movie theaters-a particular benefit for the many seniors who do not drive. Those who live elsewhere also can walk to these venues after parking below Media Village. "People are getting fed up with being in their cars all day, driving from one parking spot to another," Mark Gangi declares.

The city spent $12.3 million for site assembly, consultants and the relocation of businesses. Gangi purchased the site for $2 million, or $19 per square foot.

Small firm flexibility

The family-owned Gangi firm, established in 1947, has 20 employees. Media Village is its largest completed project. Mark Gangi observes that the increase of urban infill-type projects is attracting smaller developers. "A lot of larger development firms have a set way of operating and find it difficult to deviate from established patterns," he says. "They lack the flexibility of a smaller firm. A lot of larger firms won't invest the time to do something different. If it doesn't meet their prototype, they move on."

Gangi says developers often use the terms 'mixed use' and "pedestrian-oriented." But he does not consider a housing building next to a retail building, or to a parking structure, to be an example of truly integrated mixed-use, as is Media Village.

The Community Development Department's Evans says Media Village is helping Burbank to implement its goal of achieving a balance of housing, commercial and office occupancies to serve a year-round, 24-hour population. The turnaround began with the construction of Media City Center Mall and a movie theater that draws 2 million patrons annually. The cable television channel Cartoon Network recently leased an adjacent building. Evans says the city's next focus will be on attracting high-end residential development. Burbank's primary media district, which includes NBC's major studio complex, is more than three miles away.

"We think the mixed-use concept is very exciting and is a real boost to downtown Burbank," says Burbank City Manager Robert Ovrom, who called the design innovative.