The latest winners of the recent Awards for Excellence: the Americas competition, announced in April at the 2010 ULI Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Boston, reflect a balance among economic viability, ecological stewardship, and social equity.

From an open-air shopping center in Guadalajara, Mexico, to a LEED Platinum–rated convention center in Vancouver, British Columbia, and from the 5 million-square-foot (465,000-sq-m) L.A. Live development in Los Angeles to the eight-unit, 72-foot- (22-m-) wide Thin Flats townhouse project in Philadelphia, this year’s Americas winners in the ULI Awards for Excellence program integrate solutions to environmental challenges as well as social and economic challenges.

The ten Americas award winners and one Heritage winner constitute a portfolio of projects that reflect a healthy balance among economic viability, ecological stewardship, and social equity, noted jury chair Marty Jones, president of Corcoran Jennison Companies in Boston. “Many of these developments involve environmentally sustainable features, public/private partnerships, and innovative financing. All have proven to be financially successful in their industry class while enhancing and strengthening the surrounding community.”

This is in keeping with the ULI’s Awards for Excellence program, which recognizes the full development process of a project—construction, economic viability, marketing, and management—not just its architecture or design, using criteria that include leadership, contribution to the community, innovation, public/private partnership, environmental protection and enhancement, response to societal needs, and financial viability. In short, the projects selected for the award are not chosen solely for design; they have to work, be replicable, and be good for the community. They offer examples for others of financially successful projects, ones that can be replicated and provide solutions in these difficult times.

Social Responsibility
In the area of social responsibility, three of the projects exhibited a major community impact, each filling gaps—both large and small—in their respective city’s social fabric.

Bethel Commercial Center, Chicago. Bethel Commercial Center arose out of a community effort to save the Green Line train route, which serves the city’s West Garfield neighborhood, where only 6 percent of residents own cars. The transit center includes ground-floor retail space, employment and job training offices, the only full-service bank in the neighborhood, and a daycare center. The latter gives residents the opportunity to drop off and pick up children and commute to work without using a car. “The Bethel Commercial Center is the anchor of a larger commitment to activate redevelopment along the Green Line,” says Stacey Flint, senior director, real estate development, for developer Bethel New Life. This commitment includes revitalization of the commercial district, production of more affordable housing units, and plans for a grocery store.

Madison at 14th Apartments, Oakland, California. Combining award-winning contemporary architecture with a social mission, Madison at 14th Apartments has reserved 20 of its 79 units for former foster children, thousands of whom emerge from the state’s foster care system each year with no family support or social safety net. In addition to housing opportunities, these people are offered job training, education, and life skills programs. The remaining 59 apartments are available to families earning 30 to 60 percent of the area median income. The $31 million project—clad in colorful panels and partially powered by a 27-kilowatt photovoltaic system—was financed with a mix of 15 different private and public funding sources; it was developed by Affordable Housing Associates of Berkeley, California.

Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C. Once a vibrant hub of African American culture, Columbia Heights was devastated by the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. The neighborhood has since risen to its former prominence, largely through a District government–initiated revitalization of more than 20 acres (8 ha) of land assembled from vacant parcels along the 14th Street corridor. Reactivated by a new Metrorail station, the redevelopment encompasses 1.2 million square feet (111,500 sq m), including more than 600 housing units, of which 150 are affordable; 650,000 square feet (60,400 sq m) of retail space, both large and small format, occupied by a mix of local merchants and national chains; 24,000 square feet (2,230 sq m) of office space; a grocery; and a renovated historic theater. The social and economic benefits for the community are readily apparent, with more than 1,200 jobs created and more than $12 million in tax revenue projected to result from the project.

Economic Transformation
Four of the award winners offer examples of an economic transformation—economic success not just for the developers, but also for their surrounding communities.

Foundry Square, San Francisco. A 1.6-million-square-foot (149,000-sq-m), four-building office development by San Francisco–based Wilson Meany Sullivan, Foundry Square has led the transformation of the Transbay Transit Center District. The area—hemmed in on all sides by ramps and rail lines—has resisted successful development for decades, consequently suffering a lack of character and pedestrian street life. The mid-rise Foundry Square project has largely reversed this trend: its public spaces and human-scale architecture have activated the streets, and its varying size and floor-plate configurations have attracted a variety of high-end tenants.

 L.A. Live, Los Angeles. Anchored by the Staples Center and encompassing 5 million square feet (465,000 sq m) of entertainment, hospitality, and office uses, L.A. Live has transformed a stretch of underused land in downtown Los Angeles into a vibrant, 24-hour entertainment district. The $2.5 billion L.A. Live’s economic impact extends well beyond its physical boundaries: the project, developed by Los Angeles–based AEG, has stimulated construction of more than 2,500 housing units, a grocery, retail space, and dozens of restaurants and cafés in the adjacent neighborhoods. Also, a community benefits agreement has ensured the creation of affordable housing, a significant amount of open space, local hiring requirements, and child care facilities.

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas. A 38-block redevelopment of the city’s downtown, Sundance Square adopted a long-term development approach. Governed by a master plan designed by David M. Schwarz Architects of Washington, D.C., Fort Worth’s downtown—formerly a broken pedestrian environment interrupted by multiblock parking decks and surface lots—has evolved over more than 25 years into a vibrant, walkable, entertainment-led urban core. The deliberate development process has created both economic stability—the district is outperforming local, regional, and national real estate markets—and an authenticity driven by extensive historic preservation efforts. According to Sundance Square developer Ed Bass, “Cities really need to be reenergized with every generation to thrive, and . . . our generation is giving the next a healthy, vibrant downtown to enjoy and work with going forward.”

Andares, Guadalajara, Mexico. One of two winners located outside the United States, Andares is a retail-led mixed-use project comprising a 197-store shopping center, nine apartment towers, two office buildings, and a luxury hotel. Designed by Mexican architect Javier Sordo Madaleno, Andares is one of the largest shopping centers in western Mexico and represents the largest private investment in the country last year. The developer, Desarrolladora Mexicana de Inmuebles SA, constructed a water treatment plant and an electrical substation, creating key infrastructure for the city.

Environmental Stewardship
Three projects rated Platinum under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program take environmental design to the next level—beyond bike racks and hybrid car parking spaces to state-of-the-art renewable energy production and water conservation strategies.

Thin Flats, Philadelphia. Developed by Onion Flats, a small Philadelphia-based firm founded by two brothers, Thin Flats is an eight-unit residential project that rethinks the Philadelphia rowhouse—traditionally a narrow, long, light-deficient building. The new up/down duplexes use light wells to brighten the core of the units, solar panels to provide hot water, green roofing to reduce thermal gain, and rainwater-harvesting cisterns for irrigation of yards and gardens. This modular prototype is now being scaled up for use in other cities, emerging as a development/design/build model that is replicable for infill sites across the country, and even the world.

Vancouver Convention Centre West, Vancouver, British Columbia. The Vancouver Convention Centre West turns the convention center concept—traditionally a white elephant of urban regeneration—on its head. Simultaneously a building, an urban destination, a park, and an ecosystem, the 1.2-million square-foot (111,500-sq-m) convention center sits low on the waterfront, preserving existing vistas from downtown, and includes a six-acre (2.4-ha) living roof—the largest in Canada. Designed by LMN Architects of Seattle, the folded form of the building is modulated to extend the lines of the downtown street grid to the water and permit continuous public access to the water’s edge through a series of walkways, bike paths, and open spaces, creating an important link in the city’s existing harbor greenbelt. A seawater heat pump, graywater recycling, blackwater treatment, and a desalinization plant greatly reduce energy and water consumption.

The Visionaire, New York City. Codeveloped by the New York City–based Albanese Organization and Starwood Capital of Greenwich, Connecticut, the Visionaire is one of the city’s greenest buildings in its most sustainable neighborhood, Battery Park City. The 35-story glass and terra-cotta structure, designed by Pelli Clark Pelli Architects of New Haven, Connecticut, includes 246 condominiums, 4,300 square feet (400 sq m) of retail space designated for an organic and local food market, and a 44,000-square-foot (4,100-sq-m) maintenance facility for the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy. “The Visionaire is a culmination of a true team effort, which includes the Battery Park City Authority’s vision and the collective expertise of our design and construction teams,” said Russell Albanese, president of the Albanese Organization. Green building technologies, from a photovoltaic array integrated into the building facade to an on-site blackwater treatment plant, combine to reduce potable water use by 29 percent and aggregate energy use by 42 percent.

Also, the Battery Park City Master Plan was selected as a Heritage Award winner, only the tenth such award given by the Institute. The Heritage Award honors development projects and programs that have established new concepts or standards that have been emulated elsewhere, are of national or international renown, have been completed for at least 25 years, and meet all other criteria for ULI award winners. The Heritage Award, introduced in 1989, is given only with a unanimous vote of the Americas jury.

The Battery Park City Master Plan, adopted in 1979, has facilitated the private development of 9.3 million square feet (864,000 sq m) of commercial space, 7.2 million square feet (668,900 sq m) of residential space, and nearly 36 acres (14.5 ha) of open space in lower Manhattan, becoming a model for successful large-scale planning efforts. The strength of the master plan has allowed development by the Battery Park City Authority to occur incrementally, thereby creating a neighborhood with a stable mix of uses and diverse architecture that blends into the existing New York City street grid. “The Battery Park City Master Plan represents a positive shift away from the urban renewal mind-set of the 1960s and 1970s,” noted Joseph E. Brown, chief executive of planning, design, and development at Los Angeles–based AECOM and chairman of the ULI Global Awards for Excellence. “The plan has been responsive to changing conditions—such as the emergence of energy-efficient buildings—but has remained true to its original intent, becoming an international model for public/private partnerships on a grand scale.”

The winners of the 2010 Awards for Excellence: the Americas competition were selected from among more than 170 entries. The jury of 12 land use development and design experts noted being challenged by the large number of applications and the high quality of the projects, which struck the judges as particularly significant in the current economic environment. “Especially in these challenging times, ULI hopes to inspire others by sharing the stories of these creative, high quality finalists,” noted Jones.