BLOGS: Multifamily Focus

2006-11-30, 09:41

Mixed use for medical and hospital districts?

By: Jonathan Groner
A fascinating article in New Urban News, October-November 2006, points out that few, if any, American cities have chosen to place mixed-use development near their major medical centers, even though such places typically have thousands of employees and lots of foot traffic. The article points to Miami as a prime example where this is actually beginning to occur and says that Miami leaders are looking to West Philadelphia as one of their models. Here are the first two paragraphs of the article:

It's hard to think of any city in the US that has made its medical district a place where people really want to be. Even though medicine and health care are the nation's biggest growth industry, accounting for 16 percent of America's gross domestic product, and even though 1.7 million jobs have been created in this field since 2001 -- more than in any other sector of the US economy -- there have been few efforts to capitalize on the urban design potential of hospitals and health-related institutions.

That may finally be starting to change. In Miami and Memphis, planners, designers, and local institutions are looking at turning medical areas into congenial, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use districts -- places where people of varied income levels would be comfortable living and spending leisure time.

The full article, entitled "Remaking America's Medical Districts: A Challenge for NU," can be found at It is brief and worth reading.

2006-11-29, 09:49

A D.C. downtown library as part of mixed-use project?

By: Jonathan Groner
On Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, Dana Hedgpeth of The Washington Post reported that a master plan has been approved for the old D.C. convention center site, now a barred and highly prized 10-acre plot in the heart of the city's old (and new) downtown.

The location of 9th Street and New York Avenue, N.W., is expected to house 415,000 square feet of office space and 280,000 square feet of retail space -- including restaurants, home-furnishing and clothing stores, and specialty bread and wine-and-cheese and produce shops. (The city's appetite for trendy restaurant dishes and gourmet food seems insatiable!) There will also be 686 residential units, 20 percent of them designated as affordable housing, and a large outdoor park with a plaza and outdoor cafe seating.

The question is: Will there also be a library? Not far away, Maryland's Rockville Town Square will include a major county library as part of a path-breaking mixed-use development. And the District of Columbia badly needs a new central public library: The old Martin Luther King Library, designed by Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1972, has not been maintained well and needs to be thoroughly renovated or replaced. (Interestingly, it's the only Mies van der Rohe building in the city.)

The D.C. Council recently declined to move ahead with a bill to authorize a library on the convention center site. The outgoing mayor, Anthony Williams, is a supporter, but we will have to see what incoming mayor Adrian Fenty thinks.

A new library on this site would make this mixed-use development not merely a financial success but a cultural magnet as well.

2006-11-28, 13:45

Mixed use in Leesburg, Va.

By: Jonathan Groner
Leesburg, Va., is a historic town with about 30,000 residents that sits 37 miles from the Nation's Capital. It's the county seat of Loudoun County, Va., which lies past Fairfax County as one leaves the District of Columbia. These days, with the pace of development in Northern Virginia, Leesburg is certainly no longer the rural area that it once was.

Now Leesburg is going to have a major mixed-use development.

On Nov. 23, Cypress Equities, an affiliate of Staubach Retail, and Kettler, a D.C.-area real estate development company, announced joint plans to develop the Village of Leesburg, with 430,000 square feet of retail space, 137,000 square feet of office space, and 25,000 square feet of restaurant space. There will also be 350 condominiums and apartments and a 300-home active adult residential community. Construction will start in the spring of 2007.

Robert C. Kettler, founder and chairman of Kettler, said in a press release that Cypress's experience in "bringing urban design to the suburbs is greatly appealing to our development philosophy."

Although only the market will tell, mixed-use development thus seems to be as well adapted to suburban or even exurban communities as it is to urban centers.

2006-11-27, 16:14

Rockville Town Square in the New York Times

By: Jonathan Groner
On Nov. 22, 2006, Rockville Town Square, a major mixed-use development in Montgomery County, Md., in which Womble Carlyle represents the lead residential development, was featured in a fascinating New York Times real estate section article.

Here is an interesting excerpt:

Especially since the 1990s, mixed-use planning has attracted the attention of architects and planners -- among them, Jane Jacobs, the writer whose works include "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," that challenged traditional methods of urban planning, -- who argue that a combination of uses is necessary for a healthy urban area.

But such developments can be risky to build. "There are more things that can go wrong," [developer Don] Wood explained. "There are more components in mixed-use, and all of them have to work for a project to succeed."

The full article can be found at:

It is certainly noteworthy that the Times found the Rockville development worth writing about even though it's not in the New York area.

2006-11-21, 16:31

Conference airs virtues, problems of mixed use

By: Jonathan Groner
A conference on mixed-use development, the first ever held by the International Council of Shopping Centers, drew nearly 1,100 developers, architects, finance executives, and others to Hollywood, Fla., from Nov. 16 to 18, 2006.

According to the ICSC's press release, speakers discussed both the real advantages of mixed use and some of the challenges inherent in this type of development.

"There is an incredible pent-up demand for this," said Yaromir Steiner, CEO of Steiner + Associates. Mixed-use development is as old as the history of urban settlement, Steiner noted. But urban development came to a halt in America during the Depression. The country's subsequent 70-year pursuit of single-use, zoned development that is responsible for sprawl should be viewed as an aberration from a model that is thousands of years old, he said.

But for all of mankind's experience with mixed-use development, the format remains anything but easy to plan and execute, Steiner added. The "critical challenge" is to achieve cooperation between public officials and developers, Steiner said, without which the multi-block "town centers" for which he has become known are impossible.

There are scores of other complications, too, panelists noted, ranging from parking to liability issues. Once condominiums built above retail are sold to their occupants, how can the operators of the retail component guarantee that they will be maintained in a manner that will ensure the development remains attractive to shoppers? Who pays if a condominium pipe burst floods a retailer at the height of the holiday shopping season?

Design is also complicated. Office workers arrive at 8 a.m. and want the best parking spots. Retailers need those spots for shoppers who start arriving at 10 a.m. Residents, for their part, want their parking areas closed off and secured altogether. Consequently, these very different parking requirements must all be catered to.

And residents might like the convenience of restaurants on the ground floor, but they certainly don't like the cooking smells that come with them, noted Dougal M. Casey, managing director of ING Clarion, Washington, D.C., which has mixed-use centers in its portfolio.

My reflection is that it is a sign of the maturity of an industry that it is willing to publicly discuss the pitfalls and difficulties that it faces. Mixed use has great rewards, both financial and aesthetic, but it is harder to achieve than traditional development.

2006-11-15, 11:04

Why mixed use? Because it's profitable

By: Jonathan Groner
On Nov. 13, 2006, The Washington Post featured an interesting article, "Remade City Centers Find Mass Appeal," by business reporter Kim Hart. Hart's article begins, "The old town, it seems, is the new thing."

Hart says that the number of mixed-use projects of 15 acres or more has been increasing by about 28 percent per year since 1996. Why? Because they make money. Hart says the Urban Land Institute has concluded that shoppers spend $84 an hour in an urban village, compared with $57.50 an hour in a traditional shopping mall.

"People stay longer, come back more often and spend more money in places that attract their attention," says Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute in Hart's article. "No one wants to go to a strip mall to hang out."

As sprawl and congestion mounted in the last half of the 20th century, Hart writes, traditional suburban malls were dismissed by many as soulless. The new urbanism tried to recreate walkable, mixed-use communities.

My comment is that mixed-use development is almost always more difficult to complete than traditional development. There are more stakeholders and more interests that must be satisfied. But that large difference in consumer spending per hour means that mixed use is good for business as well as good for the community.

The full article can be found at

2006-11-03, 12:23

The natural environment becomes crucial

By: Jonathan Groner
My Womble Carlyle colleagues who write the Construction Law blog noted the following today, which is worth noting here as well. Many of the developers who will be affected by Wachovia's new strategy are building mixed-use developments. Here is the posting from the Construction Law blog.

In a recent announcement, Wachovia announced a new "significant environmental strategy" with comprehensive commitments concerning forest protection and climate change. Wachovia's climate change initiative includes "plans to research opportunities and develop products and services that increase its lending and investments in project and activities that have a positive impact on climate change."

Private owners and developers are beginning to embrace green building and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, in part because new financial incentives are making it easier to pay for some of the higher up front costs. This allows the building owner, and the community, to save money and resources in the long term. Wachovia's initiative is a step in the right direction.

Wachovia also announced that it is building a new 1.2 million square foot office tower in Charlotte utilizing LEED certification standards, and that it just opened its first LEED certified financial center in Austin, Texas. With these two LEED projects, Wachovia is leading by example - pun intended.
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