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EVOLVING PLACES (Q&A): A conversation with Richard Heapes of Street-Works, a development consulting firm that creates great urban places

Richard Heapes, a principal with Street-Works, calls his firm a "creative developer" — a company that combines the traditional development expertise of financing and leasing with design and planning expertise to make great places. Street-Works, with offices in Alexandria, Va., and White Plains, N.Y., derives the bulk of its cash flow not from property management and leasing, but rather through its consulting work with cities and with other developers. Giving vision to communities, says Heapes, is Street-Works' driving principle.

SCW: You describe Street-Works as ‘a new type of development company.’ Is the direction of urban mixed-use development changing? And is that shift, in turn, requiring those involved in the development process to view things from a different perspective?

Heapes: The new frontier is going back into existing mature markets and creating great urban places. Economically, this is complicated because it requires placing multiple uses together on top of one another. For the past 30 years real estate has focused around single uses, and so our support system — banks, lenders, leasing professionals — don't quite know how to think about putting these uses together.

But on the tenant or marketing side of retail there seems to be a longing for these kinds of places. Everyone wants to be on the street again, but the industry has struggled with how to do this.

SCW: What are some of the overriding principles that guide your approach to urban revitalization?

Heapes: The key word is place. The mall is a place, but it's not very urban, and it's really only one use, though many mall owners try unsuccessfully to change that by adding diverse elements. And in a mall, you feel like you're in someone else's place. If you look at the top ten destinations in America, which include cities such as Boston, New York and San Francisco, they're all about urban places.

SCW: But what makes a great urban place?

Heapes: Two things: One, it's public in its character. It is in the heart of a neighborhood or a district. Second, it provides a broad diversity of experiences — living, working, shopping. This usually means a diversity of people — different age groups, people with kids, grandparents — as well as ethnic diversity. People come to these places to have that kind of social experience.

SCW: Tell us about some of your current projects. What makes them special?

Heapes: On the consulting side, we are working with Federal Realty out of Bethesda on the $100 million Santana Row in San Jose, Calif. We'll be taking an old shopping center site across from a regional mall and creating a new neighborhood with retail, residential and hotel uses. Silicon Valley simply doesn't have a place like that.

On the development side, what we're most excited about is a project in Park Ridge, N.J., called Depot Square. We're working with a forgotten area surrounding a train station to help the city to build up their existing downtown. The finished product will include a public park around a great little train station, street-level retail on new sidewalks on six blocks and 250 apartments. These won't be fabulous boutiques like the ones in San Jose, but they will be "living" retail — butchers, bakers, bike stores — all the great things people need live in their lives.

This will be the heart of Park Ridge. Quite frankly, we've done enough of the big, flashy projects; developments like these are more important to people's lives on a day-to- day basis.

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