It could be a matter of everything old is new again, but mixed-use projects are growing rapidly around the country.
Before the days of suburban sprawl, living, working, shopping and playing were all pretty much done in the same area and did not demand ultimate reliance on automobiles. Architects and developers say there’s a trend to return to that way of life.
Jackson architect Michael Barranco says there is a real push for mixed-use projects. “I just returned from the International Convention for Shopping Centers,” he said. “It was amazing how many projects included mixed uses — housing, shopping, office, recreation —where in the past, most of these products were segregated. People are really becoming educated to this lifestyle and what it means.”
Gulf Coast architect David J. Hardy says the ultimate potential of a mixed-use development is to create a place where inhabitants can live, work, shop and play within a reasonable walking distance, thereby reducing their dependence on the automobile. That’s directly opposite urban sprawl planning which he feels is not sustainable.
“Properly implemented mixed-use development is smart growth and can contribute to reversing the current preponderance of urban sprawl and the suburbanite’s dependence on the automobile,” he said, “and the ever increasing taxation for infrastructure to build more roads to connect more sprawling communities that connect the mind-numbing commute along five-lane frontage roads, past nondescript consumption-oriented retail outlets that no pedestrian would risk his life to approach.”
He says urban sprawl contributes to unwarranted consumption of fuel and unnecessarily escalates America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Hardy is a principal in the architectural firm of Guild Hardy with offices in Gulfport and Biloxi. They designed Gulfport’s 15th Place that combines office, dining and nightlife space in an environmentally-friendly setting with centuries-old liveoak trees. The firm is currently designing West Court Development in downtown Gulfport adjacent to the new federal courthouse. This project will include office, shopping and dining space.
Barranco stresses that a dressed-up strip mall is not what’s meant by lifestyle mixed-use projects even though landscaping and other amenities make these strip malls look good.
“People want to stay closer to home with gasoline prices being what they are,” he said. “Plus, it’s all about time. Mixed-use projects will allow people to spend more time with their families. This trend is catching on in other places and it will here too.”
He cited Jackson/Ridgeland’s County Line Road as an example of a lost opportunity to successfully mix retail and residential areas. “This area could have been celebrated but instead it has cut off some homes and made them not so desirable places to live,” he said. “They are not connected by sidewalks.”
When people are educated as to what can be done and have the opportunity to live in a mixed-use type of place, he thinks, it will be so desirable they will demand it. “These lifestyle places consist of not just the buildings but patterns of life that take place around the buildings,” he added. “In time, you get a quality in this place that you can’t name but you know it.”
David Hardy says mixed-use development is not some new-fangled urban design concept. “Every traditional planned town in the U.S. is based on mixed-use developments,” he said. “The current state of urban sprawl leads one to think that we have forgotten everything our grandfathers knew about town planning. A return to traditional planning and mixed-use development is incumbent upon us as a society if it is sustainability that we seek.”
Barranco’s architectural firm is involved with two hot developments in the Jackson area that are mixed-use projects, Harbor Walk and the Town of Lost Rabbit, both oriented to the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Harbor Walk’s developing manager, John Hannigan with Main Harbor Development, has been in the business 30 years and worked on similar projects all over the country. He says a true-mixed use project has large multiple use components like Harbor Walk.
“What we’re doing is a street retail market, creating an urban street built around cafés, shops, office and some living places,” he said. “In history, everyone did their shopping along streets downtown. In recent years, we’ve been moving away from regional shopping centers and don’t need as many as we’ve had.”
Hannigan said the developers of Harbor Walk are trying to create an extraordinary experience at the waters edge.
“People all over the world love to sit by water,” he said. “We know how people enjoy gathering at places like this. It’s intended to be a beautiful, easy-to-get-to place that gives people multiple reasons to be there.”
He says of the more than 1,000 street retail projects built or now being built in America, each takes on a character. Harbor Walk’s tends to be a sophisticated urban center with convenient parking on one side and a waterfront harbor on the other side. “There’s nothing like this anywhere,” he said, “It’s exciting and is a very, very special place.”
He points out that Harbor Walk will also benefit by being close to the Jackson retail market and downtown area, too. “We are very fortunate to find this location ready for development,” he said. “We control 100 acres of land around the harbor. The first phase of a million square feet and 25 acres will be complete in 2007. We expect to build more condos, office space and boat slips.”
What people want
Hannigan feels this trend is growing because people like to be where they can feel good about themselves and the surroundings. “The task is to take advantage of what people want and cater to that,” he said.
Barranco said the Town of Lost Rabbit is a 260-acre development along the lines of Seaside and Rosemary Beach in Florida. It will include single-family residences, some condos and a town center with light retail, office space and restaurants.
“Phase one is almost all sold and home building will start in July,” he said. “It will be incredible and well thought out.”
The area is bounded by the Natchez Trace on the western side and the reservoir on the eastern side for what Barranco describes as “a virtual island.” The waterfront lots were not all sold. Some were kept for everyone to see and enjoy.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.