Some time ago, I was out in Long Island, NY and drove by one ofthe busiest shopping centers in Nassau County. Across thestreet—actually, a very busy intersection—sits a brand-newmultifamily development built by a recognized apartment company.And surrounding that multifamily project is even more retail shops,as well as office space.

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While sitting at the light, waiting for the traffic to clear, myhusband and I looked at each other and said, “Who the hell wouldwant to live here, for god’s sake?” It’s a question we ask everytime we drive through that area, because we can’t even fathom theidea of having to live so close to a bustling retail center,surrounded by incessant traffic. And even though this particularproject was a standalone community surrounded by other uses, wecan’t imagine living in a true mixed-use community, either.

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Maybe it’s just us—we like our quiet space. Our townhouse inWestchester is part of a larger development, but we still do havesome privacy and yard space. Perhaps it’s because we both work inManhattan, so we want our home to be away from the hustle andbustle of more dense, crowded city life (though I’m sure some urbanplanners would not like that way of thinking).

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But that’s not to say there are mixed-use projects all over thecountry that are doing exceptionally well. And I’m not talkingabout master-planned developments that span hundreds of acres andhave several product types spread throughout. Nor am I referencingapartment buildings that have some ancillary retail space on theground level. I’m talking about true, vertical (though not always)mixed-use projects that combine retail, office and/or hotel spacewith residential components.

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These projects aren’t necessarily limited to major, high-densitycities; they’ve proliferated in suburban areas as well as urbanlocales. One of the larger ones, for instance, is the Time WarnerCenter, an 80-story, 2.8-million-square-foot skyscraper in New YorkCity. It combines the Shops at Columbus Circle, with 40 specialtyretailers, a Whole Foods Market and an Equinox Fitness Club; theRestaurant and Bar Collection, featuring five high-end diningestablishments; 1.1 million square feet of office space; televisionstudios; a 248-room Mandarin Oriental hotel; and Jazz at LincolnCenter, a performance space that could accommodate up to 2,000people. It also has two condo components—the One Central ParkCondominiums, with 160 luxury units starting on the 52nd floor ofthe south tower, and the Residences at the Mandarin Oriental NewYork, located above the hotel, with 66 units on floors 64 to 80 inthe north tower. Residences in both towers went for between $1.5million and up to $45 million for penthouses.

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In Chicago, there’s Water Tower Place, a major shoppingdestination for the region, with more than 100 stores in aneight-story atrium. But the 74-story tower, located at at 180 E.Pearson in the city’s Streeterville neighborhood, also contains 260separate condos with parking. In Downtown Seattle, Vulcan RealEstate built two adjacent projects—2200 and 2201 Westlake.Delivered in 2006, the three-tower 2200 Westlake is known as the“Gateway to South Lake Union.” The 550,000-square-foot mixed-useproject has several retailers including a 50,000-square-foot WholeFoods, a 160-room luxury Pan Pacific Hotel and 261 residentialunits. Vulcan’s next project, 2201 Westlake, opened last summerwith 135 condos, 300,000 square feet of office space and 24,000square feet of retail. Homes there ranged from $300,000 to over $2million. And in Denver’s historic Lower Downtown District, theeight-story 16 Market Square project combines 25,000 square feet ofrestaurant and retail, 183,000 square feet of office space and 23luxury residential penthouses atop a three-level undergroundparking garage.

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These are just a few examples of dense, mixed-use projects. Andthey all “work,” in terms of attracting consumers and tenants. I’msure it’s quite convenient to be able to run downstairs to thesupermarket to pick up the necessities for a meal, or be able tosimply carry one’s purchases up to your house instead of luggingthe packages around the city.

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But one has to ask what the negative implications are to thosewho choose to live in these developments. I, for one, wouldn’t wantto have such public places so close to my home.
With these projects, there are the obvious concerns about noise,crowds, traffic, safety/security, visibility and having to fightwith shoppers for a parking spot. And then there are other issuesthat arise, especially given the nature of this economy. If one ofmore of the project’s tenants go under, and their spaces go dark,does that diminish the quality of the overall project? Does thevalue of your condo go down? Or, if one of the restaurants or barsthat are part of the project happens to be a popular hangoutspot—does the noise from those establishments bother the residentsof the building?

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What makes the residential components of these projects sosuccessful (and they are, if you were to just look at the pricespaid for some of the units)? Are only certain types of peopleattracted to these projects? And how do developers and managersensure that the projects’ residents remain happy with their livingarrangements?

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Perhaps these are non-issues; obviously, a lot of planning andcollaboration goes into these developments before a shovel evenhits the ground. I’m just in awe of people who can live in theselarge, dense, crowded complexes

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Then again, this is also coming from a person who a) hates toshop, b) has no patient for crowds, and c) gets annoyed by thetourists that get in the way of my commute. I’m just cantankerouslike that.

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