Why more is more for today's mixed-use developers

As more people flock to urban areas, mixed-use buildings are adapting to tick the work-live-play boxes that turn developments into destinations.

November 23, 2017

Forward-looking developers are increasingly looking at the broader facilities that make a neighborhood come alive, from trendy shops and restaurants to stadiums that can provide a winning edge. From suburban Boston to Hollywood, the focus is on human-centric designs that provide experiences; as such, some developers are even approaching mixed-use projects like they would a theme park, carving out space for cultural events and entertainment.

“Mixed-use developers are finding new success by taking a ‘more is more’ approach to experience,” says Julia Georgules, Vice President and Director of Local Research Markets at JLL. “Rather than simply meeting a couple of basic conveniences such as a local grocery store, they’re going the distance to incorporate a full mix of hotel, office, retail and residential offerings.”

Mixing in broader experiences

Building occupants, neighbors, tourists and developers alike stand to benefit from these modern developments that combine convenience and choice. “From Millennials to Baby Boomers, more people want to be part of the urban experience,” says Georgules. “But there’s only so much downtown real estate available to go around. By replicating the live-work-play environment in a smaller area, developers can deliver those active lifestyles to more people outside the urban core, and at a relatively lower cost.”

Bringing tourists and locals together can help areas to remain vibrant and modern. For example, at Columbia Square, a historic Art Deco studio complex in Hollywood, developers are blending new construction and historic preservation in a mixed-use 4.6 acre complex. Already the project has been hailed as “a model for how development helps the community,” thanks to its early successes in bringing back the entertainment industry to the area, while revitalizing a historic landmark that insiders and visitors alike can appreciate.

But it’s not all entertainment and concert venues. It’s also about aiding the practical flow of life. “There’s a reason many of the most popular mixed-use sites are situated near public transit, and are built specifically with accessibility in mind,” says Georgules. “By offering amenities-rich residential and office space in close proximity, a great mixed-use development can make it easier to move from business to personal time, and back.”

For example, a young professional who resides in Northern Virginia’s The Boro upon its completion might leave work in one of the development’s buildings, then head around the corner to Whole Foods to pick up ingredients for that night’s dinner, then continue up to their modern apartment—all in and around the same city block.

“People who reside in these developments can appreciate a greater sense of community than may have been possible before,” says Georgules. She points to Assembly Row, located in an inner suburb of Boston, where developers have invested $1.2 billion to transform what was once an industrial area with no community identity, into a retail-rich, pedestrian-friendly hub where neighbors can socialize along the revitalized waterfront.

Drawing employees and employers

Corporate occupiers are jumping on the mixed-use bandwagon, too, recognizing the business value of location in attracting the best employees. In Austin, Texas, for example, the Domain, a mixed-use enclave surrounded by traditional office campuses, has started to rival the Downtown area in recent years as it attracts a number of high-profile tenants such as HomeAway and Facebook.

Indeed, the focus on live-work-play is here to stay. “Demand for experience-driven developments is likely to increase further in the coming years,” says Georgules. “It’s a natural extension of the emphasis on inspiring workplaces in the U.S. People are learning they can get more out of their offices, as well as their neighborhoods which ultimately helps both business and communities.”

While not all mixed-use projects are created equal, there are some that are created successfully – and these are the ones that are likely to stay relevant in coming years and inspire other developments to follow their lead.