Designs of the Times

Aesthetics in mixed-use projects are important, no question. But even more significant are the collaboration of the various teams involved and the strategic coordination of construction and design details.

For instance, placing residential above retail comes with a myriad of headaches. While the final product is one that is highly desirable to both shoppers and shopkeepers, getting there is no easy path. Imagine a plumbing leak in a second-story luxury condo that drips water onto the Barnes & Noble below—for a mixed-use project to work, developers must proactively plan for every possible problem in order to enjoy the success of this celebrated format.

Chain Store Age talked with four real estate developers to get a complete picture of the challenges, and rewards, of designing and building mixed-use developments.

Combining the new with the old: Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Jacksonville, Fla.-based Regency Centers in its mixed-use addition to one of America’s oldest and most heralded planned shopping centers has been the project’s storied history and heritage. Cameron Village in Raleigh, N.C., was built in the late 1940s as a master-planned community with significant, and eclectic, retail, and was acquired by Regency in 2003.

This year, Regency announced plans for a 2.7-acre mixed-use redevelopment project with Charlotte, N.C.-based Crescent Resources LLC to build about 250 mulit-family units and 28,000 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail. Regency carved out the 2.7 acres from the 30-acre, six-block village, will sell it to Crescent, and is buying back the retail and associated parking while still maintaining a close involvement in the creation of the project as a whole.

This is where design becomes most weighty. “Cameron Village is very much a neighborhood, and as such it has an architectural ‘Cameronesque’ look,” explained John Pharr, senior VP of leasing for Regency. “The storefronts and facades throughout the village are quite eclectic and the community itself is part of the fabric of Raleigh. That is why it is so important—to us and, of course, to Cameron Village—to create a strong connection between the existing village and the new mixed-use addition.”

A direct pedestrian connection is planned as part of the redevelopment, tying the mixed-use project with the interior of Cameron Village. Visually, “We are not trying to ‘rough up’ the architecture and make it appear aged, but it must be a complement to the rest of the village,” said Pharr. “The new project must be a complement in terms of the amenities, the walkability, sight lines and, of course, the retail, which must achieve the same level of quality and uniqueness with the existing merchants.”

Place-making: In the emergence of lifestyle centers as a dominant shopping center format, the idea of “place-making” took hold. In mixed-use, the importance of place has only rooted itself in deeper.

According to Brian Sciera, VP of lifestyle centers for Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based W/S Development, the company spends an extraordinary amount of time ensuring that the atmosphere is palpable and the energy is high in the projects it develops. “What a customer feels like when inside a project, the energy that a customer feels, is extremely important,” said Sciera. “The design and layout of the project are a big piece of that, as are the merchandising mix and amenities,” he added. “They are all important features of creating that ‘place.’”

Place-making, however, varies by project and by market. “What’s good for one project and one market may not be good for another project in another market; much depends on the site and how it lays out,” said Sciera.

What W/S Development has done consistently through its portfolio is emphasize the importance of tenant branding. “Our viewpoint is that the tenants know their customers better than anyone, and their brand is very important to them,” he said. “If they express their brand outwardly, as part of the project, and you don’t have dominant architecture controlling that expression, then it will make for a much more interesting project and a more interesting streetscape.”

MeadowWalk at Lynnfield, in the North Shore area north of Boston, is a W/S mixed-use project that has successfully integrated the personalities of the myriad uses. Retail, office and residential blend in a nearly 700,000-sq.-ft. complex that features a large public green, office above retail to create a vertical frame around the green, and a “restaurant park.”

“We have grouped a variety of restaurants together with widened sidewalks and outdoor cafe seating, valet parking, firepits and entertainment components to add significant energy to the project as a whole,” said Sciera. MeadowWalk at Lynnfield is currently in the leasing phase of development.

Seeing mixed-use at pedestrian level: Beyond the vastness of a mixed-use project, Crosland, Inc. narrows its view to hone what is visible from the customer’s vantage point. Call it what you will—wearing the customer’s hat or walking in a customer’s shoes—it works to create a project unmatched in its completeness.

“It’s important to focus on what is happening around the customer at the pedestrian scale,” said David Smith, VP of retail construction for Charlotte, N.C.-based Crosland. Smith, a veteran of Walt Disney Imaginarium, learned early on in his years as an “imagineer” that what the customer sees is crucial to the success of a project.

“The location of the land is still probably most critical to success, followed by merchandise mix and ease of access,” said Smith. “And when I say ‘ease of access,’ I mean both vehicular access as well as pedestrian access.”

Crosland emphasizes pedestrian connectivity in its projects, overlaying that with substantial lighting and landscape packages. As well, “Again at the pedestrian scale, rather than doing a large sea of gray sidewalks, we selectively work in different textures at the walking surface,” said Smith. “That could be a mix of actual brick, brick pavers, or stamped concrete or stamped asphalt.”

With lighting, Crosland strives to avoid visual light intrusion but without sacrificing safety or security. “One of the challenges that we face—and it’s driven primarily by the insurance industry—is a push toward higher and higher light levels,” said Smith. “Ideally, we would hide the source of the light so that the customer can experience more of the illumination itself. It’s a balance we have to find.”

At the company’s Biltmore Park Town Square mixed-use project in Asheville, N.C., a walkable community is being accented by Crosland’s signature landscaping and lighting enhancements. According to Steve Mauldin, senior VP of mixed/multi-use development for the company, Biltmore is a high-profile, large (285,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurants, plus sizable office, hospitality and residential uses) project that “checks a lot of the boxes that we like to think mixed-use is.” In the Crosland pipeline are seven projects totaling more than a half-billion dollars in mixed-use development. “About half of those projects are out of the ground and going, and the other half is pretty deep in the pipeline in terms of planning and pre-development work,” Mauldin added.

Layering amenities and design: “The word ‘design’ and the word ‘amenities’ are integral to the success of a mixed-use development,” said Clayton McCaffery, VP of leasing for Chicago-based McCaffery Interests. “Each use is an amenity to the other.” Whether it’s residential to retail, retail to residential, office to retail, or office to residential, said McCaffery, “the reason why mixed-use works is because that’s the way we humans work.”

Mixed-use feels natural because it combines what it is we need and desire. But, cautioned McCaffery, just because it looks and feels right doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do.

“There’s a huge challenge in mixed-use development in that, if you put the residential above, you have to understand how you get the plumbing to run through the plenum space above a Barnes & Noble—and that is the challenge that really drives mixed-use,” he said. “You have to understand the construction and the design elements when you integrate them together.”

The Market Common, Myrtle Beach has successfully integrated a multitude of components—with great results. The master-planned project in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a redevelopment program by the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority, with a mix of retail, restaurant, residential and hotel at its heart. “People have come to understand that The Market Common, Myrtle Beach is a great place to go,” said McCaffery. “That’s the interesting point about mixed-use projects—they’re more than retail venues,” he added. “They might not charge hard right out of the gate as a retail mecca, because they serve an additional purpose; they have a longer life span.

“The retail will evolve and grow and flourish,” said McCaffery. And understanding that, and designing and building and leasing accordingly, is the key to success.