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Placemaking In Silicon Valley: How Developers Are Creating Places People Want To Be

With the popularity of mixed-use developments rising, developers are seeking ways to create well-crafted communities in Silicon Valley. These communities offer places where people can do different things throughout the day without needing to get into their cars.

Santa Clara Square construction April 2017

Developers and designers discussed how placemaking is becoming an integral part of creating mixed-use and office campuses during Bisnow’s recent Future of South Bay: Hot Projects event hosted at Irvine Co.’s Santa Clara Square.

The term placemaking was coined in the 1970s by William Whyte to describe how people use public space, according to IMA Design Principal Leo O’Brian. Placemaking is the process of creating a community by building off a community’s existing assets and what makes it an inspirational place.

IMA Design Principal Leo O’Brian

“The ultimate goal of that process of placemaking is to develop a place for people to have better health and happiness and well-being,” O’Brian said.

Three developers discussed how their projects are creating a sense of place.

Federal Realty Investment Trust West Coast President Jeff Berkes said the term mixed-use is often misused. Having a 300-unit building with a coffee shop on the ground floor is not mixed-use, he said.

Federal Realty Investment Trust West Coast President Jeff Berkes

“For us, placemaking is about making a place interesting and exciting and dynamic,” he said. “You’ve got to have a place where people can come and want to spend time and hopefully continue to come back and find something new and different and interesting."

Federal Realty, which owns Santana Row, is focused on creating open-air outdoor environments instead of enclosed malls. While outdoor designs may cost more and are more difficult to design, Berkes said it is worth it because you get a premium back on rents for apartments, offices and hotel rooms.

Santana Row offers outdoor retail, a 215-room hotel, two parks, plazas with outdoor seating, free WiFi, 615 apartments and 219 condos. Federal Realty is building an eight-story office expected to deliver in 2018.

Irvine Co. Regional Vice President Todd Hedrick

Santa Clara Square is Irvine Co.’s flagship mini-master planned community in Northern California, according to Irvine Co. Regional Vice President Todd Hedrick. When the entire 100-acre community is completed, there will be 1.7M SF of office, 1,800 apartments with 40K SF of retail and a 125K SF retail center anchored by Whole Foods.

This community will offer access to a local trail and outdoor workspaces that are WiFi-enabled and can be heated and covered. A bike rental program also will be available.

What seems to be changing the most within Silicon Valley is how developers approach projects. More thought and time is being spent on how to create the development, Hedrick said. Developers are less likely to build a building and flip it in five years. Many companies, like Irvine Co. and Federal Realty, are long-term holders.

SteelWave Managing Director Cy Colburn and Hopkins & Carley Special Counsel Chuck Reed

At SteelWave’s America Center, on the other end of Great America Parkway from Santa Clara Square, employees have a multitude of ways to spend their days, according to SteelWave Managing Director Cy Colburn. There is a café and a pub that leads into a courtyard with places to sit and start the day.

Later in the day, people can use fire pits or the outdoor amphitheater to hold meetings. The building lobby will have movable glass to open out to the courtyard. A ceiling video will greet visitors with nature scenes or a welcome message. At the end of the day, people can use the fitness center or rooftop amenities with a putting green.

DPR Construction Project Executive George Hurley, Irvine Co. Regional Vice President Todd Hedrick, Federal Realty Investment Trust West Coast President Jeff Berkes, SteelWave Managing Director Cy Colburn and IMA Design Principal Leo O'Brian

“Every inch of campus has a place that is inviting,” Colburn said. “Anybody and everybody can take full advantage of every square inch of the property to have a productive and effective workday.”

America Center will have a little over 1M SF of office when the project is completed.