If there's a big new project in town these days, you can bet it's got more than one asset class. So at our DC Mixed-Use Revolution yesterday, we were looking for clues on how to create mixed-use projects that breathe new life into a neighborhood. (Or at least just answer the question: "Can't all our uses just get along?!")
Boston Properties' Peter Johnston (with colleagues Denise Hogan, Laura McNulty, and Mike Neilio) has seen mixed-use at its finest with his firm's 2200 Penn in the West End, Wisconsin Place in Friendship Heights, and Reston Town Center. But going through approval and entitlement for mixed-use is often a huge challenge, he says. 2200 Penn was required to have a public space within its three acres, so the firm decided to build a park on top of underground parking. (The closest you should come to playing in traffic.)
The public realm of a mixed-use project is as important as the buildings themselves, says Cooper Carry's David Kitchens. "If you don't have a great gathering place, retailers aren't going to come," he adds. Bozzuto Management's Stephanie Williams says leasing mixed-use is all about selling a vision and a story, like the firm has with Monroe Street Market near Catholic U, a JV with the university and fellow panelist Jim Abdo. Part of the vision for Monroe Street Market has been adding local retailers that residents like to feel like they had a hand in growing.
But this is real estate after all, and mixed-use success usually comes down to location, says EagleBank's Tony Marquez, with Roadside's Jeff Edelstein and Richard Lake. (Also location, and location.) Nowadays, every town wants a town center (and thanks to town yoga, it can find it), but Tony says some exurban areas just don't have the infrastructure or demand drivers to make them work. Richard says Roadside sought to make its CityMarket at O project fit as seamlessly as possible into the Shaw neighborhood and the great bones it already has. And if residential is in the mix (as it is at CityMarket at O), the developer has to get it right, since it's not as easily fixable as a retail space is.
Republic Properties' Steve Grigg (right, with Grunley's Joel Zingeser) has had a hand in some of DC's biggest mixed-use projects, including Market Square and Washington Harbour, and says getting retail right is the toughest piece. Retailers need traffic, Steve adds, and there needs to be enough of a sense of place to draw customers in.
Ballard Spahr's Roger Winston has been on the legal side for many DC projects. He says developers with a solid track record of developing all asset classes separately usually bodes well for new mixed-use.