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The Art Of Real Estate: Alexa Arena On Building Future Neighborhoods

Good development can bring highly creative and unique people together to form healthy and vibrant communities, according to Lendlease head of West Coast development Alexa Arena. Alexa will be one of our expert panelists at Bisnow's The Future of Real Estate event Thursday at San Francisco's Hotel Nikko.


Alexa has led marquee projects, such as the 5M project and Pier 70 to establish the foundation for urban revitalization in those San Francisco neighborhoods. Now she heads Lendlease’s West Coast operations. Bisnow spoke to her about building good cities, Lendlease’s strategy, what S.F. can teach others about urban development, and the importance of art.

“Art is at the heart of society and it is critical to creating vibrant communities,” she tells Bisnow. Alexa sees it as an expression of culture that allows meaningful interaction. Art has a powerful inspirational quality. The power of art ultimately builds a shared identity and allows differing people to consider themselves part of a greater whole.

Techies are looking for this in their workplaces, she says. They want unique local retail, open spaces and lively community events. Building a neighborhood that draws highly talented tech workers can mean taking a step back. “Sometimes that means moving away from developing a perfectly efficient building or accepting lower credit retail tenants,” Alexa notes. “In the bigger picture, that’s worth it because it creates a place that everyone loves and increases the value of what is built.”

Global development and construction firm Lendlease also focuses on the bigger picture as it relates to space efficiency and amenities, which are the dominant issues in the US and San Francisco, Alexa says. The company has a dedicated global division called “high-performance workplaces” that works with clients to find optimal uses for space. “The results are staggering,” she tells us when discussing the effectiveness of the division’s work. “Among them are dramatic reductions in sick days, improved innovation metrics and lower carbon footprint per employee.”

Of course, real estate is as much persuasion and communication as it is vision. In the Pier 70 project, a waterfront development near Dogpatch, Alexa embarked on a public-private partnership with the Port of San Francisco. She credits the project’s success to partnering effectively with the community. By bringing all the shareholders together, she says a common vision could be hammered out that “responds to community goals and aligns with business goals to create a place that attracts and inspires people.”

Can the lessons she learned in San Francisco be applied elsewhere? Alexa notes there is no one-size-fits-all approach, since nuance is essential to creating good neighborhoods. Still, many large cities both here and internationally share many of the growth themes found in San Francisco. Asking how a city can balance growth while preserving diversity is not just an S.F. concern.

Lendlease has a set of “unique and deep” tools to help cities facing some of these common challenges, including highly energy-efficient underlying infrastructure to help cities with sustainability targets, subsidizing retail and cultural uses in projects. Lendlease also has an in-house foundation to partner with local nonprofits for job training.

Alexa says the vital art of real estate can only be done by partnering with the “communities in which we work.”

Hear more from Alexa and our other panelists at Bisnow's The Future of Real Estate event starting at 7:30am Thursday at Hotel Nikko. Sign up here.