LAS VEGAS, CA-“The first thing we look for in urban development is income density and population.” So says Scott Auster, managing director of Grid Properties Inc. in New York. “If you have density, there is almost always the demand.”
Auster joined others at ICSC’s RECon 2013 in a panel titled “Mixed-Use and the New Urban Footprint,” which was moderated by Rick Fernandez, managing director of Calkain Cos. Auster pointed out that Harlem USA, the firm’s first urban retail project, which is anchored by a Magic Johnson movie theater, has been called the “prototype for urban retail development.” One of the key reasons for that, he said, is because when it was started more than 13 years ago, the firm had “a very clear idea of what we wanted to do.”
Grid Properties then commissioned three architects, and had them all do a design for the project, and although the firm believed any of the designs would have worked, the company then took those designs to the community leaders—the ones that ultimately made the decision.
“Giving them that vested stake in the process brought value,” said Auster. “It is their project as much as ours. It is about community support.”
That, in addition to design, which is “where urban retail development begins and ends,” according to Auster, “are key to best practices of urban retail development.”
According to Auster, “We don’t just look at what the demand is today, we look at where the market is going.” Other key points to keep in mind are transit and parking issues, which he said are critical elements of urban retail development going forward.
“Parking in urban retail projects can cost up to $30,000 per space and is something that has to be addressed municipality by municipality. In addition, you have to understand location—almost down to how each block operates.”
One city he says is on the forefront of addressing the transit and parking issue is DC. Harriet Tregoning, director of the Washington DC Office of Planning Government of the District of Columbia in Washington, DC, spoke more on the number of changes the city is currently undergoing.
“We are a city that is growing and we are the second fastest growing state in the country,” she said. “We have added more people in the past two years than the past 60 years and have a demographic that looks like what the rest of the US will see in 2050.”
Almost 60% of the growth are under 35 years of age. “We remain a diverse city with a diverse population. We have lots of transportation and if there is a luxury in Washington, it is that you have so many options of transportation.”
She calls it “luxury” because while residents like their cars, it is a tyranny to be in them every day. “Almost 38% of DC households don’t own any vehicles,” she said. “In Washington, we only spend 9% on housing and transportation, versus 19% in the rest of the US.”
She explains that “we are really seeing a retail environment that is play space. You need to have a retail experience that competes with the internet and that has to be a part of a great urban experience and that is what we are focusing on more and more in the city.
The City has also been focusing a lot of that urban retail in the DC suburbs. “The higher the Walk Score, the higher the value,” she said. “Walkable urban are going to be the major generators of retail growth—they will have incredible employment density and will hold 34% of metropolitan jobs. “It is the future for us.”
For Steven Boyle, managing director of EDENS in Bethesda, MD, the thing that makes the firm’s projects successful are that they have personality and values. The values are authenticity, connectivity, verve, harmony, discover and intellect. “It is a sense of reality that we are trying to bring to merchandising,” he said. “We really believe in the local retailer.”