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Debating the Meaning of Mixed-Use

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An afternoon session at the ICSC New York National Conference and Dealmaking debated the meaning of mixed-use, with the panel coming in favor of a strict definition of the concept. The panel came down hard, arguing that mixed-use must be vertical and have at least three uses that must be integrated and leverage off of each other. Anything less may be “multi-use” but falls short of being a true mixed-use project, panelists argued.

Kenneth Narva, principal and managing partner with PEG/Park LLC and Street Works LLC laid out five rules for developing mixed-use projects, which are paraphrased here:

1. Mixed-use has to be local. It can't be a concept that can be replicated anywhere. It must build off the local community and history and maintain the flavor of the surrounding architecture.

2. Mixed-use should be driven by retail. It needs to have other uses, but retail—including restaurants and entertainment—must be the prime traffic generator.

3. Mixed-use works best when it grows out of the existing context. It should be part f a larger district or neighborhood. A mixed-use building, even if it provides a live-work-play environment, cannot stand alone.

4. Public uses are important. Whether it be park space, libraries, concert space, etc., there needs to be a public component.

5. Mixed-use requires public/private partnership. Public officials must be involved in planning, financing and getting approval for a mixed-use project.

But even with some agreement about truly constitutes mixed-use, there was still plenty of debate on panel. Most striking was when the question was posed of how many cities could truly support mixed-use development.

Emerick Corsi, executive vice president, Forest City Commercial Development, said, “everyone wants to go vertical, but the majority of things we end up executing are multiple use. … Not every city is made for urban development. You can count the cities that can really support it on one hand.”

But Narva argued that vertical mixed-use could be done small-scale and said hundreds of cities in the Northeast alone could support mixed-use projects.

“From Maine to Florida, from New York to Chicago there are hundreds of ways to do that,” Narva said. “You need a sophisticated financial base. You need city officials that can push it through. You need financial demand. … But we see that you can do that everywhere.”

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Elaine Misonzhnik

Senior associate editor Elaine Misonzhnik has been writing for National Real Estate Investor since June 2006 and has covered commercial real estate for more than 12 years. She first became...
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