A Tale of Two Cities

Aug. 2, 2004
Two Diverse Mixed-use Projects Foster a Sense of Community and Make Connections
Suddenly, mixed-use facilities are a hot topic. Numerous articles and new conferences are singing the praises of these hybrid facilities. However, the successful blending of living, work, and recreational spaces has been around in cities around the globe for thousands of years. By connecting with past wisdom, building owners can create mixed-use facilities that succeed and attract tenants.The five-acre Avalon at Cahill Park project in San Jose, CA, and the 138-acre Atlantic Station behemoth, Atlanta, stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in many areas. Yet, these divergent projects are developing into true communities that share a growing sense of togetherness and offer lessons for building owners.Connecting the EdgesLocated within downtown San Jose, the Avalon at Cahill Park complex faced many challenges. The project replaced a 1920s-era cannery and served as a new development cornerstone, the first building in San Jose’s Midtown Specific Plan. The 218-unit, eight-building complex needed to complement three distinct street personalities and fit into the neighborhood.“The city had a masterplan to have a transition of an industrial area and a smaller-scale downtown historic 1920s bungalow neighborhood,” says Rob Steinberg, FAIA, The Steinberg Group Architects, San Jose, CA. One edge of the project borders a residential neighborhood of one- and two-story California Craftsman bungalows. Another edge faces industrial, large-scale brick cannery facilities.The remaining edges of the Avalon project border a heavily trafficked retail area, a popular community park, and new light rail mass transit system stop. These two projects are important elements of the city’s masterplan for the rapidly growing neighborhood. “One of the challenges is [that] this large-scale new development needs to have a very strong emphasis on its context and on its connections to its separate edges,” says Steinberg.The Steinberg Group Architects has many years of experience collaborating with municipalities. A traditional, boxy retail and apartment facility was not acceptable to the city planners or the residents of the historic neighborhood. The solution was to have the facilities’ design encompass three different kinds of residential products.On the edge of the project that faced the retail sector, the owner, city planners, and design professionals chose to locate retail space on the lower level of the complex, with three levels of housing – lofts and townhouses – above these stores. Brick and metals reminiscent of the adjacent canneries connect the stores and housing to the area’s industrial past and possess an intensely urban feel.Continuing this design context, the next edge facing the massive 50-foot-high, two-block-long canneries consists of four-story, live-work lofts. These ultra-hip lofts are wrapped in corrugated metal with industrial-style windows, awnings, and balconies. Special consideration was paid to Avalon’s varying roofline to accent individual units.In contrast to this sleek, streamlined edge, the project edge facing the bungalows borrows heavily from these archetypal structures. Two-story Craftsman-style row houses are featured on this edge with porches and front yards complete with picket fences. This edge presents a different character and feel than the funky, industrial live-work lofts or urban-style retail with housing sections of the complex.Connecting a CommunityFrom families with small children to hip singles, the different housing stock attracts a rich mix of tenants and homeowners to the complex. “That is interesting because the diversity helped the developer tremendously in [the project’s] absorption. Instead of just developing a single-focus community, [Avalon at Cahill Park] was marketed to a broader variety of people and options,” says Steinberg. This diverse community is lively and has helped develop a sense of ownership and connection.Tenant attraction has been strong at Avalon at Cahill Park. “This is a very tough market; one of the toughest rental apartment markets California has seen in decades,” says Steinberg. Completed a year ago, the retail sector is also strong. A virtual linchpin, the project’s resounding success has propelled the remainder of the San Jose Midtown Specific Plan.“This was a collaboration between a very strong neighborhood group that lived in a historic district … and local officials,” says Steinberg. “It was a tremendous opportunity, because of the scale of the project, to impact in a significant way on a huge district on the fringe of the downtown.” The project owner, AvalonBay Communities, showed its creativity and flexibility through its collaboration with the neighborhood group and city planners.AvalonBay Communities Inc. develops, redevelops, acquires, and manages apartment communities in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and northern and southern regions of California. The Alexandria, VA-based company owns or holds interest in 145 apartment communities containing 42,399 apartment homes in 10 states and the District of Columbia.Steinberg believes the whole notion of housing in California is changing, which demands a collaborative effort between the owner/developer, the community, and politicians. Another trend, Steinberg predicts, is toward more high-rise facilities in California because of the increasing demand for housing. At the same time, there is a greater demand for green design being incorporated into mixed-use facilities.Soon, the cannery facilities adjacent to Avalon at Cahill Park will receive a major facelift. These massive manufacturing facilities will become picturesque brick garden apartments and condominiums. This continuing development will further San Jose’s masterplan. Adds Steinberg, “Where an architect can really add value is to be able to develop the developer’s needs and interests and integrate [those] needs while meeting the needs of the community.”Great ExpectationsCovering 138 acres, Atlantic Station is one of the largest mixed-use projects in the country. Carter, based in Atlanta, will serve as the exclusive leasing agent for the office space on this Atlanta-located project, as well as providing property management services for the new 171 Seventeenth Street Building. In addition to the 22-story office tower, which recently opened 73-percent leased, Atlantic Station will ultimately include 6 million square feet of Class A commercial office space.Atlantic Station began as a joint venture between AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp., headquartered in New York City, and Jacoby Development, headquartered in Atlanta, to environmentally reclaim a large brownfield at the northern end of Atlanta’s central business district. Once an operating steel mill for 100 years, the project was known as the Atlantic Steel Mill. Near many major roads, this generous site fortunately sits at the confluence of Interstates 75 and 85.“Jim Jacoby [president of Jacoby Development] wanted to give back to the community and to the environment,” says Brian Leary, vice president of Design and Development, Atlantic Station, Atlanta. After an environmental assessment, Jacoby Development developed a remediation plan with the state of Georgia. The remediation included an innovative water clean-up, conservation, and reclamation process.In addition to a massive clean-up process, the developer coordinated with the city of Atlanta, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency to improve access to the area. After the zoning, a significant infrastructure plan, and the remediation plan were approved, the development began in 1997.Great ResultsAtlantic Station is projected to include 12 million square feet of retail, office, residential, and hotel space, as well as 11 acres of public parks. “It is huge. When it is all said and done, there will be about 30,000 people working here and close to 10,000 living here; and that, added to our daytime visiting population, [Atlantic Station] will be the 12th largest ‘city’ in the state of Georgia,” says Leary. Located in a thriving metropolitan area, this project has tremendous regional connectivity to the whole state of Georgia.Midtown Atlanta has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. The project’s townhouses have 500 people on the waiting list and 1,300 people on the waiting list for the project’s first 100 condominiums. Yet, despite its residential growth, this region is underserved by retail.“It was a neighborhood that had long been going outside of itself to get all the goods and services it might want. We zoned for retail because the demand was there,” says Leary. Atlantic Station will have approximately 2 million square feet of retail space, including the very first IKEA furniture store in the Southeast.“It is not a mall without a roof or a lifestyle center; it is simply great urban shopping,” says Leary. The project will feature retail at the ground level with residential lofts above the shopping facilities. In addition to the new access ramp, residents can cross a connecting bridge from the project to the heart of midtown Atlanta. A free trolley, as well as bike paths, encourage environmentally friendly transit to connect the growing community.To complement the residential and retail components, office and hotel space will also be included. As part of the owners’ continuing commitment to green design, the site’s 6 million square feet of Class A office space will be designed to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™.“People are excited to be a part of a real community,” says Leary. Atlanta is full of transplants, and Atlantic Station is designed to mirror a vibrant, diversified urban community. He adds: “Atlanta has so many people from other areas that have moved here. They come from communities with a strong sense of community and place.” Drawing on communities from the past, the designers of Atlantic Station are hoping to recapture a sense of place and community.Approximately 56 townhouses are complete and occupied, and another 50 attached and detached houses will soon be completed. Similar to Avalon at Cahill Park, all commercial parking is underground. Leary encourages building owners to look beyond the path of least resistance and consider the myriad of benefits of mixed-use facilities and green design. At Atlantic Station, for example, office space and retail can share underground parking.“[With sustainability], your buildings will be healthier and high- [performing]. It is woven into everything we are doing,” explains Leary. Though, typically, green design might cost a premium of three to five percent, Atlantic Station developers have been able to take costs down to one percent because of the site-wide environmental remediation. According to Leary, this strong environmental commitment adds to the homeowners’ and residential and commercial tenants’ connection to the project because of the high level of quality. A series of public spaces and parks at Atlantic Station will hold future activities and community-building festivals. As Atlantic Station grows, the burgeoning sense of community will grow as well.Though thousands of miles apart, Atlantic Station and Avalon at Cahill Park – by connecting with their surroundings – are both homes to new memories and a bright future.Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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