Please see below for some highlights from ULI’s Implementing Walkable Urban Development and Place Management event.
At the event, panelists shared their experiences of taking risks in untested neighborhoods. The panel included Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, Barbara Byron, Director of Community Revitalization in Fairfax County, Jair Lynch, President of Jair Lynch Development Partners, Ellen McCarthy, Principal of McCarthy Urban Associates, and Jodie McLean, President of EDENS.
While the projects that the panelists discussed ranged from redevelopment of suburban industrial sites to urban infill projects in high-crime neighborhoods to, all of them shared their experiences of radically transforming neighborhoods.
Byron and McLean discussed their work on the Mosaic District in Fairfax, the county’s first project to rely on tax increment financing. Unlike many projects in Fairfax, the Mosaic District experienced little citizen opposition because it replaced industrial uses rather than adding density to an existing residential neighborhood.
Byron and McClean view the Mosaic District as a success for the county. EDENS embraced the newest trends in retail for this project, including “sidewalk jewelry” – an emphasis on lighting, signage, and landscaping design – and creating a one-to-one ratio of street width to building height to create a comfortable pedestrian environment. McLean explained her vision for the project as “a public place where people would come together to connect. . . . The role of retail is to enrich communities.”
While the Mosaic project was a test case in high-end retail development in what was once the county’s industrial outskirts, Ellen McCarthy and Jair Lynch discussed the history of successful projects in DC’s U Street Corridor. While today U Street is one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, when Lynch began investing there in the late 1990s, the neighborhood’s trajectory was much less certain. Lynch headed up the reconstruction of the Thurgood Marshall Center in 1998 when crime was a major problem in the neighborhood and homes sold for much less than they do today.
Lynch and Byron pointed to some innovative public policies that have contributed to the neighborhood’s success. For example, the neighborhood’s nighttime uses are permitted to share parking with daytime uses, reducing the requirements for parking and the prevalence of surface parking lots and improving the pedestrian experience. Both point to the opening of the Studio Theatre in 1978 as a pivotal point for U Street, and the theater may not have been able to open in its Logan Circle location had it been required to provide its own dedicated, on-site parking.
Byron pointed out that some public financial incentives have contributed to redevelopment and restoration on U Street including public private partnerships to build the Rite Aid drug store at 13th and U Streets and a public private partnership at the Lincoln Theater, which has been unprofitable. However, she posited that the city’s commitment to active public spaces around the U Street Metro station and the African American Civil War Memorial have played a more important role than its financial incentives for property owners.
While Lynch questions the city’s story that the Reeves Center, a large municipal building at the center of the U Street corridor, has fueled the neighborhood’s success, he did say that the city’s commitment to gentrification in the area has been important to the trends of the neighborhood. He said that in order to see a continuation of rising home values, more retail amenities, and less crime, policymakers should seek to create flexible rules so that developers do not have to seek out exceptions for every project.
While on the surface, the suburban shopping development in Fairfax County and urban infill development on U Street have little in common, all of the panelists discussed the importance of community accountability, which is ultimately inextricable from profitability. In the Mosaic District, this accountability comes in the form of seeking to provide a gathering place for the community with an objective of seeing neighbors spending more of their time at the destination rather than targeting their spending directly. On U Street, Lynch Development Partners has sought to maintain historically affordable housing while pursuing profitable new construction. In both cases, the developers stressed that accountability is not at odds with profitability, but rather a key to financial success.
By Emily Washington