Outdoor, animated video billboards 150-feet high broadcast a stream of images and advertising as you walk below. They are part of a new, bright skyline, with lit towers rising high above Glendale, Ariz.

Not far away gigantic fountains spurt water into the air and man-made brooks babble around you, all as you take in 1.5 million square feet of retail and restaurants and another 5 million square feet of offices, apartments, condos, hotels and a health and wellness center. Oh, and don't forget Wayne Gretzky.

Where are you?

You're standing in the middle of the $850 million horizontal mixed-use (or as some call it, multi-use) center of the future, the first phase of which is being built now: Westgate City Center. The project, designed by Baltimore's Development Design Group Inc. for master planner The Ellman Cos., in Phoenix, looks like a vision of tomorrow — today.

What does Wayne Gretzky have to do with the new town blooming outside Phoenix? The Glendale Arena, home to the Phoenix Coyotes (the team Gretzky coaches) will be located within the project.

“It is a return to basics, where cookie-cutter solutions do not work as well,” says Yaromir Steiner, founder and CEO of Steiner + Associates of the trend toward mixed-use complexes, which almost always include retail. “Mixed-use creates opportunities for more vibrant and exciting environments rather than formulaic following of patterns.” (Read more Steiner insights on page 64.)

Developers moving into mixed use are taking on the bigger task of creating livable, workable and playable places. They aren't just erecting horizontal or vertical boxes that tenants shuffle in and out of as time passes. But with that comes new challenges.

It puts a much greater premium on design. Glendale is emblematic of the kinds of projects popping up all over the country and illustrates the opportunities and pitfalls that await architects in this new reality. There is more room for rich detailing, place-making and creative branding. But multiple uses breed complexity, meaning small changes in one part of an interrelated project can snowball into adjustments everywhere.

Michael Bond, director of design for Perkowitz + Ruth Architects' Studio One-Eleven, says there is a greater acceptance of a “more modern vocabulary” in designing today's projects. The Long Beach, Calif., firm is working on a few mixed-use projects, including the Collections at Burbank (Calif.), which will be distinguished by its giant signage and wide expanses of glass. The project of 188 condos and 48,000 square feet of retail will break ground in May, with completion scheduled for 2007.

Also adding to the modernity, is a new concept that Jim Baeck, vice president of the Development Design Group, calls brandscaping. “We're blurring the lines between marketing and retail,” he says. “Let's say Ford Motor Co. wants to display its cars. I can have a billboard, maybe a showroom or a street named after the company.” This means that leasing and advertising departments work closely together; a huge sign outside the retail space could lead to a retailer being interested in inside space, and vice-versa. All of which leads to more profits for the developer.

Development Design has also conceived the planned Town Square Las Vegas.

Under the skin of these exciting new projects, lie more problems than an architect could imagine in an ordinary retail environment. In a vertical development, for example, if one change is made in the footprint of the apartment or retail component impacting a building's structural wall or columns, adjustments will have to be made on every floor, impacting the leasable areas of every component.

“It's like a complicated puzzle where the pieces are constantly morphing,” says Rob Weeks, senior project manager of KA Architecture in Cleveland.

“And you don't have the picture on the top of the box to guide you,” jumps in Darrell Pattison, KA's director of design.

Moreover, architects are often working with more than one developer on mixed-use developments that include a retail developer and, say, a residential developer and/or a hotel developer. That means managing multiple aims and egos with architects occasionally taking on the added role of peacemaker. “They become complex animals on a number of levels,” Baeck says. “Mixing and trying to marry office and hotel above retail can lead to conflicting goals. There have to be compromises.”

Then there are other problems, like the fumes, sounds and smells that may waft up from a first-floor restaurant. How do you keep them from spreading to the apartments above, in a vertical design with layers of retail, homes and, possibly, offices and hotels? You can add sound attenuating features, thicker concrete and a vertical shaft to move the fumes and smells all the way to the roof and out of the living area, says Matthew Jarmel, a principal of Jarmel Kizel Architects and Engineers Inc. in New Jersey. It adds to a project's cost, but is necessary to keep everybody happy.

Another major challenge is servicing retailers when you have residents living nearby, especially keeping in mind parking and traffic flows. How do you disguise loading bays? It's not easy, says Y.E. Smith, but one can learn from history. Smith is director of design for the retail center studio at FRCH Design Worldwide in Cincinnati. Fact is, he notes, citizens of the early Greek era and, certainly, even modern Europeans faced some of the same problems of living in close quarters.

In mixed-use projects, retailers and restaurants may not have the luxury of back doors, meaning they have to accept deliveries through the front. And like Jarmel, Smith is concerned with managing smells emanating from restaurants. Seeing how older cities were laid out can provide insights for handling these issues.

“It's more of a technical challenge,” Smith says, which adds to the expense, a problem developers obviously want to minimize. But in mixed use, with the puzzle pieces constantly changing, they have to allow for adjustments as transformations are made.

“There has to be phasing of construction,” says Pattison. “We can work for multiple developers. They can work out their legal papers. But the design has to be integrated.”

To assure consistency of design, developers usually hire one executive architect. Later, they might bring in specialized designers to perhaps dress up the retail, notes Smith.

“The design aspect is critical, as the demographic changes bring shifting consumer preferences,” says Harvey Green, president and CEO of Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. “The key to the multiple partnership aspect of this process is whether the lead sponsor(s) has the right overall vision and whether that vision is well aligned with the demographics on the housing side and business needs on the leased investment and/or hospitality side.”

Further Mixed Use Development Reading Mixed Use Development Reading:
Mixed Use Real Estate Developments- How Mixed Use Real Estate Works
Mixed Use SODO - News on Mixed Use Development in Orlando Fla
Mixed Use: Vintage Park - News on Mixed Use Development Vintage Park in Houston Tx.
Retail Developers Dive Deeper into Mixed Use Developments
Shaq attacks mixed use development
Mixed Use: Phoenix - New Mixed Use Development in Phoenix Az.
Mixed Use Developments: Fitting the pieces together
Mixed Use Development on Retail Traffic Magazine