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Debating the Meaning of Mixed-Use

An afternoon session at the ICSC New York National Conference and Dealmaking debated the meaning of mixed-use, with the panel coming in favor of a strict definition of the concept. The panel came down hard, arguing that mixed-use must be vertical and have at least three uses that must be integrated and leverage off of each other. Anything less may be “multi-use” but falls short of being a true mixed-use project, panelists argued.

Kenneth Narva, principal and managing partner with PEG/Park LLC and Street Works LLC laid out five rules for developing mixed-use projects, which are paraphrased here:

1. Mixed-use has to be local. It can't be a concept that can be replicated anywhere. It must build off the local community and history and maintain the flavor of the surrounding architecture.

2. Mixed-use should be driven by retail. It needs to have other uses, but retail—including restaurants and entertainment—must be the prime traffic generator.

3. Mixed-use works best when it grows out of the existing context. It should be part f a larger district or neighborhood. A mixed-use building, even if it provides a live-work-play environment, cannot stand alone.

4. Public uses are important. Whether it be park space, libraries, concert space, etc., there needs to be a public component.

5. Mixed-use requires public/private partnership. Public officials must be involved in planning, financing and getting approval for a mixed-use project.

But even with some agreement about truly constitutes mixed-use, there was still plenty of debate on panel. Most striking was when the question was posed of how many cities could truly support mixed-use development.

Emerick Corsi, executive vice president, Forest City Commercial Development, said, “everyone wants to go vertical, but the majority of things we end up executing are multiple use. … Not every city is made for urban development. You can count the cities that can really support it on one hand.”

But Narva argued that vertical mixed-use could be done small-scale and said hundreds of cities in the Northeast alone could support mixed-use projects.

“From Maine to Florida, from New York to Chicago there are hundreds of ways to do that,” Narva said. “You need a sophisticated financial base. You need city officials that can push it through. You need financial demand. … But we see that you can do that everywhere.”

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