a practice informed by a social mission

POSTS

POSTS

 

EMBRACE CHANGE AND TRANSFORM EXPECTATIONS

Change is the only constant. So, lets rebrand your corporate headquarters... reposition that shopping center... enhance the value of your real estate portfolio... or guide our communities towards responsible, sustainable growth and prosperity. Each must speak with an authentic voice if they are to resonate with the changing culture of employees, shoppers and communities.

SOPHISTICATED, URBANE REVITALIZATION DONE RIGHT...

I am your typical, jaded professional that isn't often impressed... as my wife and children are quick to point out. But, I am blown away by the progress my home town has made. Its been ten or fifteen years since I've traveled back to Columbus, Ohio. But, this past week I did just that.

And, all I can say is... WOW.

If you want to better understand how to revitalize a city, a district, a community... travel to Columbus. It's not just their ability to meld the new with the historic. It's also about a deep understanding of the role that culture plays in our society and its impact on real estate markets. Today, the near downtown neighborhood, The Short North, is a magnificent destination that we enjoyed much like other great cities such as Pittsburgh, Seattle and even parts of Manhattan. The downtown is not yet "there", but is growing in leaps and bounds by a careful curation of the surrounding historic pockets that are creating a range of cultures, restaurants, bars, unique residential lifestyles... and a significant commitment to green space, connectivity and design.

The surrounding communities are also enjoying a renaissance. The Franklin Park Conservancy and Botanical Gardens, German Village, Grandview, Italian Village, and Victorian Village, together, create a wonderful mosaic of life in America today. Columbus is now a major top five destination for millenials (and boomers) due to its innovation culture, economic strength, educational institutions and just plain old excitement. Yes, they have problems: diversity is not as great as it must be. But, you would do well to study this city to better understand how to bring together the self-interests of the cultural, corporate, and the "enlightened despot" to create a vibrant city full of optimism. My thanks to the many professionals, citizens and old friends who have worked tirelessly to bring this place alive, vibrant and meaningful.

INTERNATIONAL DESIGN AWARD

2018 APR Urban Design and Architecture Design Awards

MINDLINconsulting is honored to be acknowledged for this innovative and highly successful mixed use development. Dolce Vita Porto is a 1,770,000 square foot project that includes retail, residential, hospitality, entertainment and is a regional event venue. It is an important component of the stadium anchored development that revitalized the historic neighborhood of Antas, Portugal. Dolce Vita Porto has won numerous awards and is highly published. But more importantly, it opened fully leased and continues to be an important part of this community... as well as a destination experience for Southern Europe.

THE FREEDOM TO EVOLVE AND RESPOND TO CLIENT NEEDS

One of the joys of owning your own practice is the freedom and flexibility it gives you in responding to the changing needs of your clients and the larger society. Ownership is not without its headaches, but in balance, it's a wondrous thing. Today, my practice changes rapidly as I discover how we can best assist clients in responding to dramatic change in culture and markets. That freedom and flexibility means we have few boundaries on how we respond to the needs of clients. I'm always asked what we do and I find, from time to time, it's helpful to clarify what we are doing, now, and the services that are important to our clients, today.

MINDLINconsulting has traditionally helped our clients anticipate and manage change in culture, values, demographics and the marketplace. We specialize in strategies for the revitalization, repositioning and intensification of communities, real estate assets and real estate development. And, we translate those strategies into plans and designs that respond to a wider range of expectations. Today, we provide that expertise primarily in three areas of practice:

SENIOR ADVISOR

Consulting services on real estate development strategies, tailored development teams, planning and design management, and organizational business strategies:

  • Advisor on an 86 acre site, a 20 acre sites and a 15 acre site for which we are organizing RFP's; selecting project teams; identifying JV development partners; managing the planning and design of professional teams; and assisting with the re-branding of the firms, including transforming website and collateral materials.

STRATEGIC PLANNING AND DESIGN

Real estate development strategies and the supporting planning and design solutions:

  • Designing a 340 DU residential podium community and assisting with entitlements including planning, design and the management of the full professional team including architects, engineers and JV partners.

  • Development strategy and conceptual master plan for converting a 24 acre shopping center into a mixed use "town center".

  • Development strategies, master plan and conceptual design for a 15 acre residential and retail development.

STRATEGIC RESPONSES TO SOCIAL NEED

From time to time, our frustration with the limited objectives of conventional development has led us to collaborate with clients to create several initiatives including:

  • Co-founded Phoenix Rising, a development company creating communities for homeless, workforce and small home markets.

  • Co-founded BROADBANDcollaborative, a fast fiber installation company that uses fiber as an "accelerant" for economic development.

  • New prototype for the mentoring and education of "at risk" kids.

  • Pursuit of assets that allow us to transform the customer experience of shopping centers and malls from single use to mixed creating significant development opportunities in markets lacking significant development parcels.

MODERN MOUNTAIN VILLAGE… REDEFINED

We have been asked to help a client create development teams... and get those teams to invigorate their approach to creating innovation and value on behalf of our client and end-users. Without doing a really deep metaphysical dive or a "smack upside the head", we are approaching the creative process just a bit differently. The project is a year round "modern mountain village"... but with a broader mix of uses that will help establish the place as "real" and "authentic". And, we are very focused on understanding the soft dynamics that make a place "resonate" with the people that will live, work, play and visit the community.

Normally, this work goes to master planning firms expert in the typology. We are broadening this approach by inviting two groups of world-class firms to act as the "prime contractor" leading their own team of consultants. In addition to the traditional master planning firms expert in this typology, we are adding design firms capable of translating the local vernacular. We wonder if teams led by different expertise will produce a wider range of solutions. All the invited firms are required to assembly a team with expertise in planning, design, knowledged of the marketplace and civil engineering. Each firm is asked to submit team credentials and a range of fees to insure they "fit" within normal development parameters. From this group, three teams will be paid to meet with the client and have an extended conversation about placemaking, creating value, design... and help us to understand what we don't yet know. This process will introduce the client team to a wider range of thinking and talent that will inform this and other projects... as it will give all parties a chance to better understand each other. To the selected firm's team, we will add a company that is expert in understanding our end users' culture, values and needs such that the design and planning work will be informed by dramatic shifts in culture.

This process will help create the kind of informed collaboration necessary to change markets and perceptions, while bringing a heightened awareness of the needs of a modern, sophisticated, socially aware and design conscious consumer. And, we will create a higher level of design, sensitive to market realities, that will resonate with the people who will flock to our slopes, beaches and the lifestyle of our village... not to mention help create dramatically enhanced and sustainable market value.

THE HEALTHCARE VILLAGE:  TRANSFORMATION TO A WELLNESS CULTURE

The HealthCare Village is founded on a belief in the essential need to change culture… to change the culture in which healthcare is delivered to the American public. To be successful, any dramatic change in the healthcare delivery system will require a change in the value our society places on healthcare and healthcare professionals.  We can increase that value by putting health in the forefront of our daily experiences… at the center of our communities. The HealthCare Village is the "town center" at the heart of master planned communities, including the first NFL branded residential development. Such a compelling presence requires a real physical expression with an entirely new point of reference.  It must offer to a wide range of people a comfortable and appropriate level of hospitality and convenience in a setting that can be widely interpreted in ways familiar to all customers.  It is our belief that such a physical expression is not a “commercial” environment, nor is it essentially a hospital environment, as we know it today.  It is an entirely new concept and sense of place.  

By providing a new mix of medical, complementary services and some important community functions, we insure that people will come to accept the HealthCare Village as an important cultural and community asset.  By mixing healthcare services into a lifestyle event that brings customers and their families to the Village weekly, we insure that healthcare and wellness is never far from one’s consciousness.

 

ITS NOT ENOUGH TO ANTICIPATE CHANGE IF WE DON’T FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO RESPOND

If you're in multifamily or office markets, the buzz is not if, but when, the markets shifts. For example, some believe Los Angeles is approaching absorption in market rate apartments with construction costs soaring and rents flattening. Not news. Nor is the coming alternative: workforce/affordable housing which is in desperate need in many cities. Any successful strategy will require REITS and others to change the way they think about their development and financial models, as well as the changing needs of residents and tenants.

So, lets start with the cost of development on multifamily projects. I was approached by a interested party that had access to several "white knights" willing to invest significant monies towards solving the problem of affordable housing in LA. Our proposal was to have the investor acquire the site without burdening the project with that cost. That's could be a 20% to 30% reduction in development costs. When the project refinances, they take a reasonable return on that investment and roll-over the principal into the next project. A start that will not make a huge dent in the market, be could be institutionalized which just might. We have received positive responses from those financing entities we have approached.

Second, structured parking is a major cost of any project. Just outside of the LA CBD are neighborhoods full of one and two story buildings within walking/biking/scootering distance to jobs downtown. For some projects, the normal parking requirements should be dramatically relaxed and, in fact, LA is moving towards dramatic reductions, as they should. This would be a second, dramatic reduction in the cost of development.

The third factor is all about culture. If workforce housing is kids just graduating college, cops, teachers and others struggling on lower income... then we might consider how this diverse group lives. For many, communal living is desirable and there are those now addressing this phenomenon. My 23 year old son and my 19 year old daughter all prefer to live in a pod of friends. Six kids, one kitchen and fewer bathrooms. It is precisely these "wet" spaces that cost the most money in any apartment. If we could reduce the number of kitchens by a half or more... and reduce the number of restroom we reduce the cost of development, once again. One can also image populations that live in extended families wishing to take advantage of reduced rents and live together with their own bedrooms, but sharing the more social aspects of living. Taken together, these factors will make a dramatic reduction in development costs.

And lastly, there is a stigma about workforce and affordable housing. We want our workforce/affordable housing to be cool, such that anyone driving by might say "they'd live there" without knowing exactly what it was... and removing that sigma. Cool is not just about the cost of construction. But, if we can cut the cost of construction down by 40% or more... we can also cut rents down in proportion. That might give us all the tools we need to move markets and respond to changes in our culture that will make a positive change for all.

THE FUTURE OF RETAIL (AND DESIGN) WAS ALWAYS HIDING IN THE PRESENT

Samsung's new store in New York City is not a "store". It is a "new" typology that extends the selling cycle by creating "space" which allows for deeper emotional connections thru a more expansive and engaging learning experience. The Samsung store gives customers the opportunity to use their products in a social setting. Their mission is not to sell products at this "store". But in doing so, Samsung's products are seen as something more important than mere devices: they enable people to live as they aspire... to belong to specific communities. Today, that social community is more valuable than the transaction precisely because it creates profound relationships that secure long term sales and higher price points. But, this model is not new. And, for doubters, it is a proven methodology.

Sophisticated nonprofit organizations have been doing this by creating a sense of belonging to a larger community organized around a shared mission. It is the "major donor" model where the selling cycle is extended to create this sense of shared moral and social values. Once the "customer" or donor and the nonprofit organization are aligned, the donor will be a long term "partner" in achieving shared social goals. And, that partnership is much more valuable and enduring than mere brand loyalty.

Most retailers still seek brand loyalty. But, Samsung's model is more similar to the nonprofit organization. Samsung's selling cycle is shorter than the nonprofits. But, the steps are similar: the relationship is not transactional and it’s all about creating experiences that lead to shared values. The nonprofit mission is merely a more focused definition of shared values. The online music industry is also beginning to learn this lesson. It has been documented that some bands are more profitable when they don't charge for albums. They simply create an understanding that enables the customer to appreciate that they want the next album and will donate money when downloading to insure their values are expressed in the marketplace. Donations were larger than normal album prices precisely because it was valued more than a mere transaction.

So, what does all this gobbly goop mean? It simply means that commerce is not merely transactional, although price is still important. But, selling apartments or smart phones is more about making it easy to express values and lifestyle through a purchase that gives access to a community. And clearly, technology is making this easier. But, it also means that the built environment is, now more than ever, successful when design takes into account values and subtle forms of learning that engender this larger sense of community. Those values transcend demographics. They are informed by local culture. They can define new and underappreciated "communities"... expanding the base and increasing diversity.

And, most importantly, this requires a more inquisitive and reflective design process that is not focused on style and form... but on meaning "given" thru the form making process.

 

UNDERSTANDING CULTURE

Successful apartments, retail, work environments, neighborhoods and cities all are predicated on one thing: culture. And, "smart" design gives life to culture. But, by itself and uninformed, design is no substitute for truly understanding the culture of the community you serve. You "feel" the culture of the place on city streets and it’s on the street that one discovers the first layer of culture. The joy of discover is in the peeling back of the layers that hide the larger meaning. This is just as important for work space. A global ad agency that was losing its "creatives" because it was no longer perceived to be creative required a profound understanding of the culture it wished to promote. The design was crafted to tell a story of the place and promote the kind of engaging and creative spirit it once had.   We designed a new apartment community that embraces a dormant culture to lay the foundation for a district wide rejuvenation that will help secure long term investment value... and we are re-inventing the shopping center experience by recognizing those same changes in culture.

As we respond to changes in culture, we see exciting new opportunities to give voice to emerging spirits and to sustain historic roots. Change is good. Resistance is futile. Disruption brings immense opportunities.  And, "smart" design is merely essential in creating the right culture which can be a foundation for future success.

"RIGHT-SIZING" RETAIL

What does one do when they find themselves with a retail property twice the size as their market can absorb due to over-building and dramatic market changes. You might seek to differentiate, re-position and create a new, unique offering of tenants and experiences to fill a void in the marketplace. You can strive to be a "category killer" that dominates a select market segment. Or, you can bite the bullet and reduce, or "right-size" your retail offering. This is often thought of as the death knell to patronage, profitability and asset value. But, not necessarily so.

For a four story mall ownership in a dense downtown environment, we were asked to replace the top two levels of retail with residential and creative office. Both uses were in high demand and commanded top rents. Together with the remaining shops, this new "mix" was transformational... creating a truly unique "destination experience" for an exclusive segment of the residential and creative office marketplace. The transformation would also allow for a re-positioning of the remaining retailers with a more focused and intense offering for tourists, shoppers, office workers and residents. We have also done this for a one-story mall where a "wing" of the mall that lost an anchor retailer was to be demolished and new uses were integrated into the "mix". And, we are looking at community shopping centers that are missing opportunities for tremendous added value.

For some properties, the more direct approach of "right-sizing" or select, strategic replacement of retail with non-retail is the best solution that creates a whole new customer base for the remaining retailers... a more focused and intense retail offering with higher rents... and a more sustainable, mixed use investment that can better stand the test of time.

 

"SMART" DESIGN MATTERS

How does a two million square foot mixed use development with the same 90 tenants as six other shopping malls compete for sales in such a crowded market?  It competes by creating an unforgettable “experience” that is one part design; one part clever costing strategies; and one part strategic planning.  Dolce Vita Porto achieves strong and enduring patronage simply because it is a constantly evolving emotional experience that uses inexpensive computer controlled lighting technologies and a wide range of true colored glass to dramatically change its appearance and emotional content.  And, it was planned to “cull the herd” by separating 60,000 “happy” soccer fans from the true shoppers… long enough for the fans to get a cappuccino and “cool their jets” before shopping.  All this, combined with a new stadium, hotel and housing, revitalized the historic Antas neighborhood in Porto, Portugal... positioned our client for many years of successful sales... and made Dolce Vita Porto an important place in the lives of this community.

Design "works" when it is focused on solving real problems that affect the client’s strategic goals and the emotional needs of the culture it serves… 

 

IT'S (STILL) ALL ABOUT ATTRACTION AND RETENTION

Sometimes it helps to re-state the obvious: every city and community must succeed at "attraction and retention". We send our kids to the big city for college and they return all grown up, smarter than us and looking for a wider range of experiences in their lives. Does your community have the kind of residential lifestyle and urbane environment that will keep them... attract them... back into their community? Or, will they leave town (and you) for the bright lights of a more exciting place to live their new lives? Maybe that’s OK with you. After all, 22 years can be enough living with testosterone. But, it’s not promising for the future of your community. And on the other hand, does your town offer something to keep... retain... the "go-goes", the "slow-goes" and the "no-goes"? Or will your parents leave because they must... because you don't have the right kind of housing, care and easy access to commercial, social and cultural venues?

This isn't about making every community the "big city".  Far from it.  Job creation, joy of life, immigration (even from the east coast), culture, innovation, socioeconomic diversity, technology and the easy ability to socialize is merely essential. Our cities, communities and neighborhoods must constantly strive to attract and retain a vibrant and diverse population. Baking that cake is hard work. But it won’t rise if you don't have the right ingredients. And oh yeah... "smart" design matters more, now, than ever.

 

 

URBANE WORKS

As exciting as it may be, not everyone wants to live in downtown Los Angeles or New York City. And even our nicest suburbs often lack the qualities that bring our kids home after college. So, between the extremes of urban and suburban... what works?  "Urbane" works.

Urbane places have many of the essential qualities of an urban lifestyle without being urban. Those are the qualities that appeal to millennials, hipster and boomers... and are at the center of the culture that defines the communities we create. Urbane environments are made possible by a diversity of culture and demographics not often found in our suburbs. Urbanity thrives with connectivity and in places where there are many possibilities for socialization.  It’s an attitude where contrast is preferred to consistency and form-making can expand beyond the normal choices of forty stories or four. It’s a reflection of the ever increasing sophistication and diversity of our culture and the marketplace. 

The Central West End in St. Louis is among the most unique and exciting communities in America because it offers this diversity of cultures, building typology and a visceral sense of urbanity. And, that urbanity allowed us to design a wider range of exciting possibilities. It's just an attitude of inclusion that never underestimates customers, nor your ability to have a positive impact on their lives.

 

THE REAL DEFINITION OF SUCCESS

How does one define success? Renaissance Place is a “living and working over the shop” New Urbanist development with real stone and brick construction over a transfer slab covering underground parking built for $94/SF. It pre-leased before we broke ground. It created an entirely new lifestyle offering for office space and residential living. It is highlighted in several ULI Handbooks. And, it was very profitable. By most accounts, then, it was a successful development. Yet, those things are merely essential.

Renaissance Place went beyond the essential to create real value to ownership and the community it served. One year after it's completion, there were 24 new retailers and six new residential developments under construction or in-process in the downtown. As a result, surrounding real estate values escalated making our client’s holding even more valuable. But just as important, every evening the people of Highland Park come together as a “community” right here at Renaissance Place.  It's that broader definition of success that we strive for in every community we help create.

 

THE "PRESENCE" OF TIME

On a site with a historic Revolutionary War house, can one design a new community that respects the past... gives presence to the passage of time... and creates a sense of permanence for the future? The Inn on the Knoll is part of a larger amenity concept that re-defines luxury at Roderick Place, a new community planned for Thompson Station, Tennessee. Surrounded by a rich variety of new home typologies, the Knoll rises at the center of the community and encompasses specialty medical, wellness, a spa, restaurants, convenience retail and meeting facilities complemented by gracious lawns and gardens for weddings and corporate functions. The setting is meant to convey an organic growth that is a collection of historic buildings, each exemplary of its time, to create a truly unique and hospitable environment that offers the guest a rich variety of historically referential experiences.

This new "mix" of amenities at the heart of this residential community gives Roderick Place a true competitive edge and re-defines the notion of "luxury" in this upscale regional market.