When we talk about mixed-use development, we don’t typically have in mind a compound featuring bail bondsmen, pawn shops, and garages that specialize in muffler repair. While plenty of areas like this occur naturally wherever rents have fallen low enough, such a mixed-use design would not create the type of livable, enjoyable habitat sought by planners, developers, municipal leaders, and the public.
A lovely example of today’s trends in mixed use is evolving just a few miles from my home, and I’m learning that one of the joys of a successful mixed-use development is the serendipity it offers. On a site formerly occupied by a shabby megaplex cinema surrounded by an ocean of surface parking is the Mosaic District, located in Merrifield, an area of Fairfax County, Virginia. It has an urban-style Target store, located four floors above ground-level retail tenants and a multiple-level parking deck. There is a multistory movie theater with a café, both of which are geared toward grown-ups, a Hyatt House hotel, and, well, you could call it a mosaic of small shops and restaurants.
The shops and restaurants are convenient, but what I find most enticing about the development is the potential for discovery and surprise that it offers. I stopped by MOM’s Organic Market recently and discovered a locally sourced, organic butcher shop next door. Outside the movie theater is a splash fountain—and I’m waiting to discover what programming may come along in that area as summertime begins. Will I run into my neighbors? Can I linger after a movie or dinner and see what happens?
In this issue you’ll find a variety of approaches being taken toward creating mixed-use developments around the country. They all go far beyond the recipe of ground-level retail at the base of a multifamily building—which in today’s retail environment too often means a row of empty storefronts beneath fully leased apartments. On page 48, you’ll find a story by Jeffrey Spivak about train station developments that, at long last, have rail service as their centerpiece. And on page 55, David Myers explores how retail real estate is being developed in an era of intense competition from online retailers—and a glut of obsolete retail space.
Beginning on page 80 is a story that could only appear in Urban Land. Trisha Riggs traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina, developed by ULI leader Charles Fraser, who was a pioneer in the use of environmentally sensitive design. At ULI South Carolina’s annual meeting, held on Hilton Head this spring, panelists examined ways the resort can be retooled to attract new generations of tourists and residents whose interests go beyond quiet, natural settings; gated neighborhoods; and golf. And the panelists were none other than ULI leaders who began their careers working with and learning from Fraser: ULI Chairman Peter Rummell, former ULI chairmen James Chaffin and J. Ronald Terwilliger, and former ULI trustee James Light. Only ULI can bring that kind of perspective to a contemporary land use problem.
And, finally, on page 32, you will find a photo of a remarkable example of adaptive use: at ULI’s Spring Meeting in San Diego, I was pleased to join attendees at a cocktail reception on the flight deck of the USS Midway, the venerable aircraft carrier, now retired. At dock not far from the homeport of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, the carrier is operated now as a naval aviation museum. I’m sure I was not alone in raising a glass to salute the sailors and aviators who served aboard the mighty ship over the decades and across the seas.