On March 1st, more than 300 attendees attended ULI’s Contagious Urbanization: How the Suburbs are Embracing Mixed-Use and Density to learn more about the current suburban development boom. A regional panel moderated by Fortune Live host and author Leigh Gallagher, a Media Pennsylvania native, discussed how they plan and build for the new urbanized Philadelphia suburbs.
Eli Kahn, Principal of E. Kahn Development Corp., presented redevelopment plans for downtown West Chester and Devon. As someone who grew up nearby, Eli explained how he aims to create an “urban light” environment, by building walkable and transit-oriented developments that are desirable to those used to a bustling city atmosphere. Devon Yards, his latest project located in the former Waterloo Gardens property, includes the underground parking, an innovative commercial real estate choice, as well as trendy retail described as an “Urban Outfitters themed complex.”
The panelists agreed that understanding what makes suburban real estate attractive to its target audience is essential to success. James Mazzarelli, Senior Vice President at Liberty Property Trust, pointed out that the Great Valley Corporate Center is being rebuilt with the new decision makers – Gen X, Gen Y and other “digital natives” – in mind. By building active and collaborative work environments that fit into the increasingly common live/work/play lifestyle, Liberty Property Trust hopes properties like his can help set the bar for placemaking in suburban office spaces.
Millennials and empty-nesters tend to have active lifestyles, so when redeveloping the Granite Run Mall, Michael Markman, President of BET Investments, knew they would have to incorporate public greenspaces. Michael presented the roadmap for this endeavor; speaking with key stakeholders and educating community members on their plans for this “multipurpose desire destination” throughout the process. By building around a walkable courtyard that connects to the adjacent trail system, the new Granite Run Mall encourages patrons to live sustainably while still enjoying their leisure time.
Providing the community and government perspective, Terry Woodman, Principal at Special Consulting Projects and Manager of East Whiteland Township (Chester County), gave insight as to how municipalities work with developers towards a common goal. She explained how suburbs are now ready to “put density where the infrastructure is” which is partly why so many mixed-use projects are in the works. As a veteran of the industry, Terry stressed the importance of including the entire community in an open dialogue every step of the way. Her key advice to developers to “work collaboratively with the township to build real estate, we can all ensure community value with a project.”
Each panelist fielded questions on the importance of public transit access, building for Millennials, young professionals and empty nesters, as well as addressing the “adult Disneyland” and other stigmas surrounding new mixed-use developments.
Check out ULI Philadelphia on twitter for more insights. Special thanks to our panelists, moderator Leigh Gallagher, and our sponsors Federal Realty, M&T Bank, and Morgan Lewis.