The Burnside Rocket infill development in
Portland, Oregon.

Burnside Rocket is not your average project. The infill development in Portland, Oregon, rated Platinum under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, has a ground-floor pub, two levels of shared office space, a top-floor restaurant, and a rooftop garden. The four-story building, which won a 2011 ULI Award for Excellence, is a case study in multi-functionality: operable window panels double as canvases for local artists, the roof garden provides fresh produce for the restaurant, and water from an underground aquifer both cools the building and yields 4,500 gallons (17,000 liters) of potable water each day—profits from which the developer plans to donate to local public schools.

The designer and owner of Burnside Rocket, Kevin Cavenaugh, is not your average developer, either. He has made a name for himself in Portland designing and building small infill projects in burgeoning neighborhoods. “My goal is to change the world 3,000 square feet at a time, and the only way that will happen is if others take my ideas as support for their own practice,” explains Cavenaugh. True to his word, all his work—from computer-aided design drawings to pro formas—is available on his website, a kind of open-source program for real estate developers.

Unconventional projects are the rule rather than the exception for the 2011 ULI Awards for Excellence, announced May 19 at the ULI Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Phoenix. One bright spot to emerge from the current challenging credit environment has been a bumper crop of creative and community-focused projects, says jury chair Marty Jones, president and CEO of MassDevelopment. “All of the winners prove once again that, consistent with ULI’s mission, building more than just bricks and mortar can be financially successful and also enhance and strengthen the surrounding community.”

Brays Crossing 

Many of the 2011 winners are mission driven, the satisfying product of long and sometimes laborious efforts. The Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California, named for a prominent Bay Area disability activist, was one (see page 38). Conceived by a consortium of like-minded partners committed to serving people with disabilities, the facility has become an international center for the Independent Living Movement. The 1.6-acre (0.6-ha), 65,000-square-foot (6,100-sq-m) facility was constructed using universal design principles and provides mutually supportive office space, a child care center, and direct access to a Bay Area Rapid Transit station. Its thoughtful design, by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, reveals itself through small details: doors that sense a user’s approach, a splashing fountain that serves as a wayfinding device for sight-impaired visitors, and a helical ramp that allows able and disabled people equal access to the second floor.

At another winning project, New Hope Housing could not have picked a more challenging site in Houston for Brays Crossing: a slender parcel hemmed in by a busy highway on one side and a cemetery on the other. Making matters more difficult was the state of the existing property, the former HouTex Inn—a 1960s-style motel that had become a crime-ridden public nuisance. The Houston-based developer brought all seven buildings up to code, converting the motel into 149 single-room-occupancy apartments for low-income residents. Operated without the use of government rent subsidies, the project integrates steel murals designed by a Hispanic artist that also attenuate the noise from the highway, turning a former eyesore into a community canvas. “Brays Crossing proves that affordable, supportive housing can be high quality and a vibrant asset that both stabilizes lives and improves neighborhoods,” says Joy Horak-Brown, executive director of New Hope Housing.

Riverfront Park, developed by East West Partners, is the product of a 25-year collaborative effort to create a viable and dynamic residential neighborhood in downtown Denver. Integrated into the downtown grid and built on the site of a former rail yard, Riverfront Park today is the site of more than 1,400 residences and 62,000 square feet (5,800 sq m) of retail space. Designed and built under an innovative form-based zoning code, Riverfront Park also features four parks and a landmark bridge, reclaiming the riverfront and reconnecting it with the downtown.

300 North LaSalle in Chicago. 

The 2011 award winners also exhibit a penchant for calculated risk taking, laying roots in new neighborhoods and experimenting with new models and product types. The Eastside: Phases I and II—with 113,000 square feet (10,500 sq m) of retail space, restaurants, and a grocery store—is the first section of a classic “zipper” development, designed to reconnect East Liberty, a community damaged by the urban renewal efforts of the 1960s, with Shadyside, one of Pittsburgh’s highest-income areas. A thoughtful two-level commercial scheme creates two ground levels, solving a steep grade change and providing a seamless transition between neighborhoods. “We wanted to reconnect three established shopping streets, and our multilevel urban/suburban hybrid approach emphasized site access, circulation, and convenient parking. These elements played a major part in yielding a market response far beyond expectations,” explains developer Steve Mosites. The Mosites Company project has created jobs and sparked economic growth in East Liberty, helping reverse the commercial district’s 40-year downward slide.

The Fitzgerald, a 275-unit apartment building with a 20,000-square-foot (1,900-sq-m) university boo­­kstore in midtown Baltimore, is the leading investment in a larger neighborhood redevelopment effort led by the University of Baltimore. Adjacent to the light-rail line and on the site of a former coal yard, the Bozzuto Group project has brought high-density urban living to a neighborhood that had lacked options and an identity. Though it was initially conceived with the nearby students and artists in mind, the Fitgerald has drawn a surprising percentage of residents who are professionals that commute to Washington, D.C., a market capture enabled by the proximity of Penn Station.

In Cleveland, the $200 million Euclid Avenue Transportation Project has helped establish the legitimacy of a new transportation model for the United States—bus rapid transit (BRT). The dedicated bus lane system and improved streetscape along 8.3 miles (13.4 km) of Cleveland’s historic Euclid Avenue has connected the central business district with major cultural, medical, and education users—all at one-fourth the cost of light rail. The transit project has helped catalyze $4.7 billion in spin-off investment and 11.4 million square feet (1.1 million sq m) of new and planned development, according to Cleveland Regional Transit Authority estimates.

The New World Center in Miami has also helped usher in a new development model, turning the traditional concert hall—with its orderly rows and grand decor—inside out. Establishing new connections among architecture, technology, education, and culture, the Frank Gehry–designed 80-foot- (24-m-) high glass-and-steel box contains the free-flowing theater space, while the front facade doubles as a 7,000-square-foot (650-sq-m) projection wall, displaying concerts and video art to patrons in an adjacent 2.5-acre (1-ha) green space. Known as the Miami Beach Soundscape, this outdoor venue brings classical music and performances to an audience beyond the formal environs of most symphony halls.

Two 2011 winners buck the trend, showing that traditional commercial development is still alive and well. In Chicago, 300 North LaSalle, a 60-story, 1.3 million-square-foot (121,000-sq-m) office tower on the north bank of the Chicago River, extends the legacy of the city’s exceptional architecture. The LEED Gold–rated building, developed by Hines, maximizes daylighting and minimizes solar gain, uses river water for cooling, and features a half-acre (0.2-ha) plaza that has helped activate the riverfront. The project has been overwhelmingly successful: 96 percent leased, it was sold in 2010 at nearly $503 per square foot ($5,414 per sq m)—the highest price ever paid for a downtown Chicago office building.

The Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California 

After an eight-year development process, Westfield San Francisco Centre has restored the city’s 1890s-era Emporium building to its original grandeur and re-created what a century ago was San Francisco’s premier retail street. The developers, Forest City Enterprises and Westfield Group, preserved the two major architectural features of the original building, which had been heavily damaged in the 1906 earthquake—the 102-foot- (31-m-) wide glass-and-steel dome, the 19th-century building’s trademark feature, with its lunette windows, ornamental plaster work, and galvanized metal frame; and the beaux arts sandstone facade that fronts on Market Street, with its display windows, bronze doors, and even two old Emporium signs that flank the entrance. The $460 million project holds 1.5 million square feet (140,000 sq m) of commercial space and has attracted an estimated 25 million visitors to this once-distressed area of San Francisco.

The 2011 ULI Awards for Excellence winners reveal a new breed of developer—mission driven, community focused, willing to test new ideas. Cavenaugh’s next project, the Ocean—a cluster of micro-restaurants, each 500 to 600 square feet (46 to 56 m) in size, designed to bring Portland’s exploding food cart scene to the next level—embodies this pioneering spirit. “The larger banks have become so fearful that ideas have taken a back seat,” he says. “Successful projects like Burnside Rocket and the Ocean can help reverse the trend, providing new comparables and giving lenders confidence the next time an unconventional project comes across their desk.”