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Mixed-Use on Steroids

Mixed-use development continues to dominate new commercial and multifamily construction. Locating your project near mass transit is crucial, but the mix of uses also has to be right.

January 07, 2011 |

Mixed-use development has been one of the few bright spots in real estate in the last few years. Successful mixed-use projects are almost always located in dense urban or suburban areas, usually close to public transportation. It’s a sign of the times that the residential component tends to be rental rather than for-sale.

Due to the large scale of many mixed-use projects, Building Teams must be effective in communicating and collaborating both internally and with local government entities. For example, L.A. LIVE, the massive entertainment and lifestyle complex that has sprung up around that city’s Staples Center, can attribute much of its phenomenal success to the developer’s close collaboration with the Building Team and its partnership with the city of Los Angeles.

It’s also critical to accurately anticipate the needs of potential tenants. At the Broadway Building in Seattle, downsized office spaces cater to small-business owners who are looking to escape from the congested downtown core. In Chicago, the live/work units and street-level retail of 2000 N. Milwaukee go far to meet the needs of up-and-comers in a rapidly emerging neighborhood.

New buildings in a mixed-use project naturally must take their design cues from the vocabulary and style of the surrounding architecture. They may be hip and glossy, like L.A. LIVE, 2000 N. Milwaukee, and the Meridian at Grosvenor Station in Rockville, Md. Or they may pay their respects to the more toned-down older buildings in the neighborhood, as in the case of the Broadway Building, with its Prairie School influence. There is also a movement afoot to give architecturally significant buildings a new mixed-use identity, as is the case with The Link in Phoenix.

The takeaway: If you’re looking to develop multifamily residential, mixed-use may be the only viable way to go. “I don’t see anything getting built that isn’t mixed-use right now,” says Paul Alessandro, a partner with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, Chicago. If that’s the case in your market, take a look at these recent projects for inspiration. 

Six Emerging Trends in Mixed-Use Development

1. Projects located within reasonable walking distance of public transportation have a much greater chance of success in today’s urbanizing climate.

2. Demand for multifamily rental housing will exceed that for for-sale housing until such time as the current inventory of existing stock declines precipitously (don’t hold your breath).

3. Boutique, Class A office spaces catering to small-business owners are a clever niche market, especially at or near the edge of downtown.

4. Avoid sustainable design and construction at your peril.

5. Raise your hand and take this pledge: New construction must be appropriate to its surroundings, either complementing distinguished existing buildings or making a bold statement in an underdeveloped or burgeoning area.

6. Architecturally significant older buildings in strategic locations—even those that date from the 1960s and 1970s—are finding second lives as recycled mixed-use projects.

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