Tommy Goodman, Director of Design: What goes around comes around. Most of the mixed-use projects with which we are involved are in urban settings with high land costs and usually carry very specific requirements from the municipality in the form of Main Street open space, landscaping and residential components. This is leading to stacking the one-level big box into two- and three-story space similar to the traditional department store we knew decades ago.
In many instances where a municipal incentive in the form of tax benefits is employed, the city government is requiring a residential complex where some percentage of units is set aside for low-income families. We are finding it beneficial to have urban planning expertise on staff as a design strategy because of the “highly compact mini neighborhoods” we are creating.
Stan Laegreid, Principal: In the last decade, our retail design work has shifted from an all-domestic clientele to one that is 50 percent international, and the majority of those projects are multi-use. Our business has evolved as a result, since we have portfolio depth in the basic building types of a mixed-use development (office, hotel, urban, residential). Retail center developers and designers are well prepared for these projects, because retail is so often the driver. That's because of the relative complexity of retail development planning compared to other uses, the dominance of public space and the importance of retail as a link between uses and transportation hubs.
As a result of the new focus on mixed use, retail design is less about a “one-size-fits-all” execution. Many retailers are adopting a more kit-of-parts approach to store design and identity so they can readily adapt to the physical constraints inherent in mixed-use destinations.
Also, because food and beverage usually becomes a much bigger play in mixed-use development, we need to design more robust service, delivery and mechanical systems. Restaurants typically want higher ceilings, so savvy developers are building specific opportunities for restaurants into the initial design planning.
Perkowitz + Ruth Architects
Sy Perkowitz, President & CEO: Savvy development teams are providing a spectrum of mixed-use lifestyles in both undervalued urban cores and suburban greenfield. From urban chic downtown lofts to a town center on the village green, architects have to consider the added value of new technology in building design and amenities, To stay abreast of the latest technology, our projects have greatly benefited from collaborating internally as well as with other leading consultant groups. This spirit of collaboration and shared knowledge is critical for finding solutions and using best practices.
A common challenge with building mixed-use projects is getting buy-in on the local level. While the consumers want in, many communities are hesitant to welcome high-density living in their backyards. Moreover, old zoning philosophies can complicate entitlement. We have found community workshops and design forums to be helpful for educating communities about the benefits of such projects, while proactively incorporating local expectations into the design.
John McNulty, Founding Principal: MBH anticipated this mixed-use phenomenon becoming a vital part of our practice early in our career and planned the structure of the firm to respond appropriately. At MBH, we have a studio environment with each studio being client- and project-type driven. These studios include master planning, housing, hospitality, developer, retail, specialty retail, restaurant, large-format retail and commercial. MBH has the ability to understand the macro issues of all sizes of master planning projects and to work together internally to understand the intricate and minute restrictions of each component and project type. We can then include innovative and workable solutions that can be implemented once the projects require solutions at the micro level.
Everett Hatcher, Founding Principal: On the large tracts of land that we are planning, we see mixed-use projects integrated more on a horizontal basis where retail transitions into multi-level residential, which transitions into townhouses, then into single-family homes. Office usage can also be integrated, too. With vertical integration, the challenges are more abundant. Residential above retail requires that the retailers have acceptable hours of operation. Retail, which requires extensive exhaust, etc., impacts the residential units above it. Residential units require vertical circulation, both exit stairs and lobby spaces, which impact the lease plan of the retail below. Vertical integration of office over retail is much easier to accommodate. Dedicated parking for residential units and/or office space is a necessity. The synergies of mixed-use development (residents meals catered by neighboring restaurants; hotel guests using health spas) are just now being recognized and the opportunities afforded by those synergies are limitless.
Dorsky Hodgson & Partners
Brett J. D. Kratzner, Principal Virtually every project we have worked on in the past year has had at least one other use beyond retail, with residential, office and hospitality as the most prevalent. Because of this phenomenon of adding additional uses to retail — usually on top — we have become more attuned and adept at meshing disparate uses into one and making the two or three work as one. We are seeing senior living being considered in more of our land-use master plans. I think senior living will be the next place for growth in mixed-use environments due to the ease of movement and services needed by active adults.
O'Brien & Associates
Patrick O'Brien, Business Development Director: Mixed-use projects are by nature more complex and therefore require a deeper knowledge of the various components involved. We are fortunate to have had experience in all the uses that could comprise the typical mixed-use center: retail, apartment, office, theaters, restaurant and civic. Mixed-use projects haven't changed the way we do business; it's just a matter of bringing everything together.
Carter & Burgess
John M. Rufo, Architectural Group Manager, Retail & Distribution Division: We rarely see projects anymore that don't have some mixed use, which is inherently a more complicated program and design exercise. We need to be careful with our clients to not undersell the need to do our homework and understand basic code and zoning ramifications to the design. Some developers and municipalities are way ahead on the complexity of these issues, and some are way behind. We offer our services according to the experience level of our customers.
Mixed use often comes with mixed ownership. It's very easy to fall victim to the proverbial two- or three-headed monster. Being very clear about who we are contracted to and about the chain of command, and communication is paramount to our ability to deliver efficient service.
The longer the food chain, the better the communication and paper trail needs to be. Every client has a different idea about the values, pros and cons of mixed-use projects. Our design strategy takes its cue from our clients' attitudes. Some clients ask for very clear division of uses and environments. Others approach it as a big soup where every flavor can potentially complement the next. Either condition can be solved well, but deciding up front what your project wants to be is critical.
James B. Heller, President: The tenant mix — be it residents, office workers or patrons of street-level shops and restaurants — requires a more flexible approach to planning and design. We can no longer base our solutions on what has been done in the past, or on the latest prototype. Now we have to consider how a particular tenant will fit into an atypical condition, with as few compromises as necessary to meet its needs, while accommodating the needs of other end users. Parking and servicing present greater challenges, and generally result in more expensive solutions than those used in the past
These new developments are made more complex by the mixing of uses that necessitate more imaginative structural, mechanical and vertical circulation systems, and building facades, hardscape and landscape all increase in importance over their retail-only predecessors. Available rents and larger tenant allowances also impact costs. It becomes necessary to have a variety of uses to generate additional income and add to a project's financial viability. To avoid disastrous design emasculation at the “value engineering” state, it is critical that the initial pro forma anticipates these extra expenses. The resulting project is well worth the cost in terms of better tenants and fewer vacancies.