At a panel on mixed-use strategy at ULI’s 2016 Fall Meeting in Dallas, participants described what might seem like three dissimilar projects. The assortment included a government redevelopment effort that put a neurological institute and a performing arts center in a former Las Vegas train yard, the razing of a Los Angeles mall to create an open-air plaza lined with upscale shops and restaurants, and the revitalization of a once-elegant hotel that had fallen into decay in downtown Dallas.
But, as the speakers explained, all three efforts have things in common. They all offer cities a way to turn blighted areas into engines of revitalization and economic stimulus, and create profits for their owners and tenants as well. And, as they detailed, pulling off such ventures requires imagination, a deft mix of marketing acumen, and a close working relationship between public and private stakeholders.
In the case of Las Vegas’s 61-acre (25 ha) Symphony Park project, it also required resilience and the ability to rethink plans in the wake of a long-lasting regional downturn that drove away many of the original private sector partners envisioned in the mid-to-late 2000s, said Scott D. Adams, Las Vegas’s deputy city manager.
“Most of our development agreements have lapsed,” he said. In some cases, the private partners were unable to execute, while in other cases, the city decided to take back the land, because the private developers’ plans no longer looked viable.
Some prominent anchors of the original plan—a casino/hotel and a jewelry mart, among others—had been discarded, and the city, which originally had envisioned bringing in a private sector company as master developer, decided to play that role itself.
But that shift turned out to be advantageous. “As a municipality, we have the luxury of being more patient than a private developer would,” said Adams.
The city decided to alter its strategy, and develop much of the area as office space for the medical industry, which it perceived as having the most growth potential. It also focused on developing different anchors, including the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
The city is also looking to develop an elevated walking trail and green space in the area, similar to New York City’s successful High Line.
Clare De Briere, chief operating officer and executive vice president for the Ratkovich Company, detailed that developer’s efforts to convert the early 1970s–vintage, fortress-like Broadway Plaza in downtown Los Angeles into the Bloc, a $160 million open-air complex that will feature upscale shopping, outdoor cafés and restaurants, art installations and performances, and a hotel.
De Briere described the old plaza as “the worst house on the best street” because of its proximity to arts venues and Staples Center, and convenient access to public transit.
“Our brand is that we’re going to be the living room for downtown L.A.,” she said.
As part of Ratkovich’s efforts to establish the Bloc as a hip destination even before its retail outlets were in place, the company brought in artists to display their work in the development’s open space.
In Dallas, Rachel L. Roberts, branding and marketing director for the Statler Hotel & Residences, talked about the $175 million effort to restore the faded chic of a 1950s-era hotel that once was the crown jewel of Conrad Hilton’s empire, and which attracted celebrity guests such as Elvis Presley and Liberace. It also once famously hosted a llama named Llinda Llee, which stayed in a suite between fashion photo shoots for Neiman Marcus.
“We wanted to take what made the Statler so iconic at mid-century and make it applicable to today,” she said.
In the redevelopment plan, the Statler—which Roberts said had fallen into disuse and become a “sinkhole” for downtown Dallas—will be transformed into a mixed-use complex that will feature both apartments and a hotel for Hilton’s Curio boutique brand.
Roberts said that the developer, Centurion American Development Group, will make the apartments relatively small, to keep them affordable to millennial strivers who are gravitating to Dallas’s downtown. That also will help make the project more economically resilient.
In addition, the Statler will include coworking office space and a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 sq m) ballroom, which may host concert events staged by an outside promoter.