Mixed-use momentum building

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Published: March 31,2008

On March 31, Equus Eleven, a Sacramento, Calif.-based developer broke ground on a nearly $15-million, 121-acre commercial/residential mixed-use development. And where is this large project being built? In Wiggins, the small community in South Mississippi.

This project’s location illustrates just how popular and widespread mixed-use developments have become. While the concept of mixed-use — residential and commercial and/or retail space offered together on one site — is not new, it continues to gain momentum in large and small communities alike. The convenience of being able to live, work, shop, dine and play in one place was always a strong selling point for developers. Now with pump prices skyrocketing, developers are selling the savings in gasoline as another reason to look at mixed-use, and more and more people are buying.

“We’re definitely seeing a change in the demographics of prospects interested in our development,” says Gerald Blessey, president of Tradition Properties Inc., which is building the mixed-use development Tradition on 4,800 acres on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “It’s not just young people interested. We’re getting calls from seniors and people of all ages. Everyone seems interested in mixed-use development now.”

Getting connected

Michael Barranco, AIA, says the main appeal of mixed-use development is improved quality of life. He is part of the development team (Neopolis Development, LLC) at the Town of Lost Rabbit, a sprawling mixed-use development on 260 acres on the Ross Barnett Reservoir, and says people are yearning for the days when neighbors knew neighbors and everything was in walking distance.

Barranco, of Barranco Architecture, Planning & Interior Design, points to a venerable Jackson mixed-use development as an example of how connectivity breeds business success.

“Highland Village has been around for years and is still bustling,” he says. “It has retail on the bottom and offices on the top, and is successful because it was built in the middle of a neighborhood. I was recently in Dallas and Highland Park Village, which, I believe, Jimmy Fowler modeled Highland Village after, is still going strong. Connectivity is key.”

Barranco adds that connectivity is also important when designing mixed-use developments. The development’s components must flow and complement each other. And, he says one of the most daunting tasks of developing Lost Rabbit has been ensuring that utilities match need and building capacity.

Blessey agrees. Tradition has a theme of “excellence in education and excellence in heath and wellness.” To that end, Tradition has landed Biloxi Regional Medical Center and William Carey University, which is building a new campus to replace its Gulfport campus that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (The Catholic Diocese of Biloxi’s new St. Patrick High School is already up and running at Tradition.) The medical complex and William Carey, part of phase one of Tradition, will be adjacent to each other, creating a synergy that Blessey says is exactly what he and Tradition Properties envisioned for the development.

Connectivity is the catch phrase at Ceva Green, according to Tanya Scott, MHR, RN. She is managing partner of the firm developing Ceva Green, a mixed-use development in the heart of downtown Jackson. The project is being geared toward executives, who need connectivity and mobility. Thus, information technology is a large part of the plans for Ceva Green, and the building will be built with an IT backbone, giving residents and businesses state-of-the-art connectivity. And, an IT company will be located in the development, a 356,000-square-foot facility.

What downturn?

Escalating construction costs and the downturn in the housing market are challenges for mixed-use developers. However, Mississippi developers are reporting increased interest from prospects, and work is progressing nicely on these projects. Echoing Blessey, Lee Nations with Pinnacle at Jackson Place, another downtown Jackson mixed-use development, says he is seeing interest from a much wider demographic than originally envisioned.

“I think we would all initially think young urban professionals is our ‘typical’ prospect for residential space, but what is interesting is that the new high-quality residential projects that have gone up downtown — and remained leased, by the way — have seen a very interesting mix of residents that cross the entire spectrum from students to empty-nesters,” Nations says.

Developers say they are beginning to see an uptick in interest in their projects as fuel prices skyrocket. Now, prospects are seeing more than convenience in mixed-use developments — they are seeing cost savings from not having to crank their cars as much.

Blessey says construction costs as well as insurance issues on the Coast are challenges, but sales are moving forward and going well.

Katrina indirectly is actually accelerating at least one development. The construction of the first building in Lost Rabbit’s Town Center began March 24. Barranco says it will be completed before the end of the year in order to take advantage of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act.

In fact, developments around the state are progressing and achieving milestones. Ceva Green will be part of the larger Old Capital Green, yet another mixed-use project in Jackson, and Scott and her team are waiting for the go-ahead for Old Capital. At press time, she expected that approval within 30 days. Work could begin in May. The target date for completion is December 2009.

Blessey says William Carey is expected to break ground April 7, with a targeted opening set for September 2009.

And, at press time he expected Tradition’s 600-acre Town Center to begin construction in 60-90 days.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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