Tennyson Williams and I combined forces to instruct ULI’s inaugural course in Mixed Use Development in Los Angeles this month.  We toured some amazing projects, warranting a rundown of our top four mixed use project tours:

  •  STELLA in Marina Del Rey: Our top vote was STELLA in Marina Del Rey.  Combining clean, contemporary architecture with clever programming for L.A.’s well compensated entertainment and creative class, Stella is a remarkable success – a real glimpse of what commitment to great design, gutsy timing and clever deal structure can achieve.
  •  Reed Architectural’s  Home Office:  A close runner-up but at a very different scale, was Reed Architectural’s own home/ office in Venice Beach.  Pushing the boundaries of density at FAR of 1.5 on a 5,000 s.f. lot, this mini-mixed use project was an exercise in brilliant execution and thoughtful design.  Volumes were articulated beautifully and detailed in a muscular but refined way. The project illustrated that ‘high density’ can be made delightful through curated building form and space.
  •  Related’s Village in Santa Monica:  An example of great design which resulted from a brutally complex entitlement process is Related’s Village in Santa Monica.  The three- building complex was still in construction, but Moore Ruble Yudel’s clean lines and high transparency buildings looked like they would create a landmark when complete.  With a once in a lifetime site located along Santa Monica’s waterfront, Related brought the execution and design capability worthy of this site.   However, many of us left the project wondering about the wisdom of the City’s $47 million investment in a new public park adjoining the development.  At over $181 / s.f., it seems to be over-reaching the cost benefit ratio.  As much as I am a proponent of a great public realm for great cities, I had to wonder if this wasn’t a case where less would be more.  Only time will tell, including how well the city is able to manage and maintain such an investment without enlisting an entity dedicated to its care and feeding.
  •  Carson Street Corridor:  The City of Carson’s efforts to intensify its main corridor was a great example of both the long term commitment and chutzpah the public sector needs to offer to the game of mixed use.  Their significant commitment of public funds to acquire the land, write down land costs, or fill funding gaps during the downturn was truly admirable.  What resulted were two very high quality urban housing projects – one for low income seniors and one for market rate rentals. One of the more interesting side stories was their IHOP saga.  As part of the prime senior housing redevelopment site, this free-standing building was integrated as the anchor tenant into the building’s ground level retail.  But to make this work the developer had to 1) reimburse the owner 2.5 years worth of profit during the time the property was under construction 2) reimburse the franchisor (IHOP) for 2.5 years worth of pancake batter (I kid you not!) and 3) provide a new location at a preferred rate.  All those hurdles aside, the new store is up and running with great success, within a fancy new ‘urban format’, operating as IHOP’s prototype for commercials.

Given the success of this year’s inaugural program, we will be back for more in 2014.  Check with Urban Land Institute for dates, times and locations.