The Urban Land Institute recently engaged in discussions with diverse commercial real estate experts, delving into their insights on the immediate outlook for development, challenges faced, and opportunities in securing financing within the current economic climate. These experts explored strategies for effectively balancing the mix of uses in urban mixed-use developments, as well as ways these projects can better support local businesses, unveiling significant trends in the process.
Challenges in Mixed-Use Developments
Addressing the current economic climate, one expert highlighted the challenges posed by rising costs and the notable decrease or stabilization of rents, particularly for office and residential assets. The inherently higher costs associated with building, operating, and maintaining mixed-use developments were emphasized, especially in the context of aligning supply and demand for multiple asset classes in vertically integrated projects. While the extended planning timelines for new urban districts provide an advantage in the current environment, the expert stressed the necessity for flexibility from municipalities and building departments to accommodate potential market changes during the development process.
Despite initial concerns during the pandemic about the future of cities, the resurgence of urban environments is evident, exemplified by successful multifamily developments in downtown Los Angeles. However, the current challenge lies in an inverted financing market where the high cost of debt and equity makes development a formidable task.
Opportunities & Strategy
In the midst of these challenges, the landscape of real estate deals has evolved, with only cash-backed transactions seeing fruition, while traditional developers and investors grapple with difficulties. The silver lining appears in smaller-scale projects and highly specific opportunities within mixed-use neighborhoods. Examples include introducing smaller multifamily projects to downtown office neighborhoods through adaptive reuse or ground-up development. Developers and investors now find success in enhancing existing neighborhoods rather than launching expansive traditional master-planned, mixed-use areas, emphasizing the importance of considering the ecosystem they invest in and selecting the most suitable neighborhoods and markets for their projects.
Successful mixed-use projects, according to the discussions, hinge on strategic execution in areas with existing density and a mix of complementary uses in close proximity. Emphasizing the preference for mostly single-use buildings with some retail at the base, the experts advocate for complementary uses in tight proximity. They cite examples like Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, where success was achieved with large mixed-use projects, particularly those close to rail and within existing mixed-use neighborhoods, showcasing careful attention to ground-level design for pedestrian-friendly and active spaces.
The insights gleaned from the Urban Land Institute’s discussions with commercial real estate experts paint a nuanced picture of the challenges and opportunities facing mixed-use developments in the post-pandemic era. The prevailing theme revolves around the resilience required to navigate the evolving economic landscape, with a particular focus on rising costs, shifting market demands, and the crucial role of flexible planning.