Developing Inner-City Projects: 'It's About Inclusivity, Not Gentrification'The key to developing successful inner-city retail and entertainment projects is to work closely with area residents and business owners so the projects are perceived as a neighborhood enhancement rather than an intrusion, according to industry experts at a recent land use conference sponsored by the Urban Land Institute.
"Reinventing Retail: Community, Lifestyle, and Entertainment," held recently in Los Angeles, focused on the growing use -- in both downtowns and suburbs -- of retail centers as gathering places that combine shopping with socializing. In particular, the "rediscovery" of cities is providing the most opportunities for retail development, because many inner city areas remain grossly underserved, while the outlying areas tend to be saturated with retail, conference participants noted.
Kenneth Lombard, who formed Beverly Hills, CA-based Johnson Development Corp. with former pro-basketball star Magic Johnson in the early 1990s, outlined the company's hands-on approach to inner-city retail. "You cannot do these projects from 60,000 feet above. You've got to get on the ground and fully understand the demographics you are targeting," said Lombard, who is Johnson Development Corp. president.
According to Lombard, inner-city markets are often ignored due to incorrect notions about income and population demographics, which tend to be underestimated. Many of the neighborhood residents, particularly immigrants, have large extended families who want shopping, restaurants and urban entertainment facilities in their neighborhoods, and who will regularly patronize establishments where they feel welcome, he said.
"Part of our philosophy on securing projects is community outreach. They (the residents) have to feel like you are part of their community," Lombard said. "Everyone is welcome at our projects, as long as they are not there to disrupt the experience of others. If you want to maximize your success, you need to figure out how you can do something to include all the customers available to you. It's about going in with an attitude of inclusiveness, not an attitude of gentrification."
A renewal of retail and entertainment development in downtown neighborhoods reflects an overall change in the perception of cities, said David Manfredi, partner with Elkus Manfredi Architects, Ltd. in Boston. The perception of the city as just a place to work has shifted so that it represents the center for culture, entertainment and social amenities, he said. "The social purpose of the city has been reaffirmed.... Sustainable urban retail and entertainment environments depend on the integration of multiple uses. Diverse residential opportunities, cultural attractions and surrounding workplace environments all contribute to the staying power of urban retail."
Manfredi cited several urban projects -- the Grove in Los Angeles; Sansom Common in Philadelphia; 730 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago; Glendale Town Center in Glendale, CA; and Belmar in Lakewood, CO -- each of which varies in the ratio and blend of property uses, but all of which provide a sense of social purpose. "Whether it's about urban parks, common spaces, multiplicity of uses or connectivity, they all provide multiple venues for visitors. There are a number of a reasons to be at them at different times o the day," he said.
The irony of the current retail development environment is that many of the projects underway in the suburbs are being designed with town centers and public gathering places so they "look like downtowns," said Roy Higgs, chief executive officer and managing partner of Development Design Group, Inc., in Baltimore. Without a great deal of background preparation to develop the right "fusion" of tenants and merchandise, "it truly does not matter where or what you design," he said. "It may be good looking, but probably won't be successful, because you won't get repeat visitation.... In the urban context, what's cool is so, so, so important."
The trick to successfully blending residential and retail uses is to give as much thought to "where the front door is as to where the loading docks will be," he said. "You have to make sure the building says home to somebody."
The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide responsible leadership in the use of land in order to enhance the total environment. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 18,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.
For more information, contact Trisha Riggs of the Urban Land Institute at (202) 624-7086 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Side Bar 1
Critical Factors for Downtowns
Five critical factors for retail success in downtown areas:
1. The creation of an accurate market profile that pinpoints the categories of visitors.
2. An adequate security plan to make visitors feel both safe and welcome.
3. Offering shopping perks to enhance the downtown shopping experience, such as package home delivery services so people don't have to lug bags around.
4. Public-private sector partnerships involving public officials determined to see the projects through.
5. Public amenities that act as a focal point to bring the community together.