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VOL. 126 | NO. 95 | Monday, May 16, 2011

Mixing it Up

Walkable, mixed-use communities regain favor

By Sarah Baker

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Scarce new development is providing the retail sector the opportunity to rethink how it delivers its goods and services, moving away from car-dependent models and toward walkable urban centers.

SEE Main Street, 103 S. Main St., center, and nearby businesses are mixed-use retail below and residential properties above.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

This mixed-use, walkable neighborhood concept is something Memphis will see more and more of, especially in the urban core, said Jason Polley, project leasing director for Stonecrest Investments LLC.

“The people that left and moved out to the suburbs years ago are trying to get back into town because commute times continue to lengthen as people move farther and farther out,” Polley said. “People want a quality of life that allows them to live and to work and have entertainment within a relatively close proximity to each other, which is definitely a different philosophy than what has historically been suburban development in the Memphis area.”

The Urban Land Institute predicts in its 2011 emerging trends report that any new development will focus on infill, rejecting high-risk and “mindless” strip centers. This will cause more of a focus of mixed-use development in Downtown and Midtown, said Scott Barton, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis Memphis’ retail services.

“Urban areas have greater density than suburban areas,” Barton said. “These infill areas have greater access to public transportation.”

And with the dramatic spike in the price of gasoline, homebuyers will be drawn to these infill areas more than they have been in the past, Barton said.

But creating more walkable communities means adding more commercial development within existing residential development. The two do not always play well together.

“Most zoning trends seem to put a commercial – and hopefully walkable – commercial core separate from much of the residential development of a community,” Barton said. “It seems as important retailers in our community, such as Kroger, have (been) leaning toward larger concepts where possible in current commercial locations.”

Large national retailers involve most consumers driving to reach them. Couple these locations’ history of popularity with zoning challenges in what are now more residentially focused areas of a community, it can be difficult to imagine the focus changing dramatically, Barton said.

For Henry Turley, CEO of Henry Turley Co., single-use zoning has been vastly overdone for the last 40 or so years. As Kroger and Walmart maximize their profits, it minimizes the value of a person’s lifetime and neighborhood, Turley said.

“Because of the reach of a car and the size, it began to dominate your neighborhood and your house and almost your life,” Turley said. “They were enabling us to go to a store that was scaled for Kroger and Walmart rather than for us.”

Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of retail mixed-use is Harbor Town. The Mud Island community features 500 houses, a shopping district, a small private school and several town greens. And due to the various support services – including an “appropriately scaled” grocery store, Miss Cordelia’s – car trips can be drastically reduced.

“We find our customers saying, ‘This is nicer than I realized. I thought I enjoyed my home, but this is just so much better,’” said Turley, who was involved in the development of Harbor Town. “And what they’re really talking about is more complex integration of use and price ranges.”

Other developments of Henry Turley Co. with the same theme include Radio Center Flats – equipped with an Iberia Bank ATM and City Market grocery store – and the recent completion of Barboro Flats, which will house Aldo’s Pizza Pies, among others.

But not all mixed-use will occur Downtown. the Mid-South Fairgrounds, for example, is a key area to watch, Barton said.

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