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.
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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.

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