Coral Gables, Florida

Designing centers with character

Growth continues unabated at the expanding edges of virtually every major metropolitan area. But as commuting times have lengthened and lifestyles have changed, people are looking back to those cities and towns they or their parents abandoned a generation or two ago.

“When they sit in their cars in traffic jams, they begin to think that living closer to their work in the city would be nice,” says Lawrence Beame, president of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Beame Architectural Partnership, a full-service planning and architectural firm specializing in retail and retail/mixed-use projects.

Not the old city, of course, but a new kind of city. One with all the conveniences, amenities and newness of the suburbs, but combined with the pedestrian-scale and activity that characterizes the urban downtown.

“We're currently working on several lifestyle center projects, each of which call for a different mix and emphasis to reflect a uniquely different character of each community,” explains Beame. For instance, the 500,000-sq.-ft. Lakeland Village in Lakeland, Fla., a Casto Southeast project, incorporates a cinemaplex, mixed retail with anchors stores, restaurants on the lakeside, a hotel and office space.

Casto Southeast president and CEO, Brett Hutchens agrees, “While Lakeland has its own street grid, it's integrated in a way that allows it to accommodate the traffic flow needs of the city.” He continues, “Beame is acutely aware of the market requirements of mixed-use urban projects. They understand what retailers need and work it into the project. But most important,” Hutchens notes, “is that they seem to have an appreciation of the developer's needs. They have the ability to design to the economic realities of retailing and development.”

That, however, doesn't mean compromising design. Lakeland Village respects the architecture of the region, incorporating its historical references into the fabric of the project. This, and the way it fits into the cityscape, may be why it's a hit with City of Lakeland planners.

Meanwhile in Columbia, S.C., Beame is planning The Village of Sandhill, a 300-plus acre development that will include a lifestyle center with office and residential, and a power center with a convenience center, hotel, medical facilities, its own residences and office space, a cinemaplex and freestanding big-box retail.

“Here the challenge is to design in the vernacular and architectural vocabulary of this quintessential southern city, while allowing the individual retail tenants their own identity,” explains Beame. A project of Khan Development Company, it fits within Columbia's city blocks, providing a functional and attractive gathering place for the community.

“We have to remain sensitive to the reality that such widely used terms as urban and lifestyle take on different meanings in different locales and cultures,” notes Beame. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the firm is working on the $150 million Paseo Caribe development, those words mean high-rise apartments and casinos, as well as a cinemaplex, townhouses, retail and hospitality.

“The site has awesome waterfront views in every direction, but at the same time it's located at the gateway to Old San Juan. Consequently, it was critical that we respect the history of the adjoining communities,” says Beame. “Therefore, the process required close collaboration, not just cooperation, between us, the owner and the neighbors.”