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Authenticity Is More Than Just An Industry Buzzword, DFW Developers Say

When it comes to planning and marketing a new development, the word authenticity is thrown around a lot. But despite its reputation as mere industry jargon, developers say the success of a project hinges on a commitment to the term.

Wolverine Interests' Nadia Christian, Catalyst Urban Development's Paris Rutherford and Lincoln Property Co.'s Shawn Fullam.

“It’s overused because it’s the most appropriate term for what we are all looking for,” Shawn Fullam, senior vice president of Lincoln Property Co., said during Bisnow's Mixed Use & Retail Update event April 14. “It’s changing all the time — so what someone feels is authentic today is going to feel different when we deliver the project … we have to be fluid and open-minded to that change.”

The first and most important step in creating an authentic experience is democratizing a project by giving the community a seat at the table, said Annmarie De La Vega, executive vice president of De La Vega Development, which is in the process of building The Central, a mixed-use development at Haskell Avenue and U.S. 75. 

“A lot of the time, there is a stigma of the big, bad developers coming in and telling you how to live your life,” she said. “It’s about listening to what the community wants … if you can really listen, and really try to make that part of the process and incorporate that into your vision, people feel it, own it and make it theirs.”

Wolverine Interests' Nadia Christian, Catalyst Urban Development's Paris Rutherford, Lincoln Property Co.'s Shawn Fullam, De La Vega Development's Annmarie De La Vega, CallisonRTKL's Clay Markham and Town of Addison's Wes Pierson.

People are quick to realize when their sole purpose is to generate revenue, said Paris Rutherford, principal of Catalyst Urban Development. This is why the most successful developments offer more than just a transactionary environment — they establish a sense of place by giving people opportunities to connect.

“When you are in an environment where it’s absolutely clear that it’s a commodity, and you’re a consumer of that commodity, and it’s been designed only for that reason, it’s inauthentic,” said Paris Rutherford, principal of Catalyst Urban Development. “You’re part of a business equation. You feel like you’re being guided.” 

Building design is just one way to establish a unique identity — in many cases, authenticity is found in gathering spaces. De La Vega said feedback from neighbors and office tenants resulted in a 3.5-acre park at The Central that will serve as the hub of the development. 

Northwood Retails's Ward Kampf, Trademark Property Group's Terry Montesi, Hunt Realty Investments' Colin Fitzgibbons and Venture Commercial Real Estate's Mike Geisler.

“That green space is the soul, the nucleus, the identity of the project,” she said. 

Developers can be hard-wired to fill every square foot of space with revenue-producing real estate, but the incorporation of open space is now viewed as an essential piece of a successful development, said Nadia Christian, partner at Wolverine Interests.

“It’s changing from maximizing something to personalizing something,” she said. 

In many cases, preserving open space can actually produce more revenue, Rutherford said. This was the case at the Village of Rowlett, where Catalyst chose to forgo some of the entitled apartment units and instead built a community garden, quads and bungalow courts. 

“That’s an example where open space was a very important and dynamic programmatic feature that has driven revenue for us,” he said. “I would argue that the value of that project is probably greater than if we had developed the 150 units.”

Storybuilt's Eduardo Garza, Omniplan's Jeff Slajer, Russell Glen's Terrence Maiden, McRight-Smith Construction's Andrew Smith, Stillwater Capital's Clay Roby and Hoar Construction's MC Mercer

The influx of development activity in North Texas means there is more available capital to offer amenities like green space, which will serve as a competitive advantage for developers looking to attract tenants.

“Green space is an important part of pushing rents and having tenants approach your project and want to be there,” Fullam said.  

Despite its many benefits, there is such a thing as too much green space, said Clay Markham, managing principal of CallisonRTKL. Developers should be intentional about including open space only when it serves a purpose.

“Don’t have open space just to have open space,” he said. “What we always want to look at is activating open space.”