Image Alt

Utah Business

Mixed-use real estate developments are the next big thing, here's why you should be investing your hard earned cash into this new model of real estate.

Live, Work, Play

“Lifestyle preferences today differ significantly from those of the past,” says developer Adam Robinson in the National Real Estate Investor. That’s an understatement. Twenty years ago, the internet was a thing for nerds. Big-box shopping malls were where the cool kids hung out, and a twenty-minute car ride for a burger or a new pair of jeans was no big deal.

Now, we can order anything online and have it on our front porch in 48 hours. Or quicker, if we’re willing to pay a bit more. We’d rather our favorite restaurant be located within three blocks, and there better be a coffee shop that close, as well. Driving is now a burden, something we do when in need of an emergency toilet plunger, a last-minute recipe ingredient, or a pharmacy prescription picked up.

Thankfully, real estate has been following our urbanization trend, moving away from car-centric cities and toward dense, walkable ‘clusters’ with all the amenities of life—restaurants, grocery stores, pubs, etc.—sprinkled within easy reach. A new-ish trend amplifies this urban-local aesthetic by bringing living spaces, businesses, and other types of real estate into that same cluster of buildings. Goodbye, strip malls and apartment complexes eight (or twenty-eight) blocks apart. Hello, mixed-use real estate developments.

“Good mixed-use projects find synergies between communities of residents and the services they want and use,” says Chamonix Larsen, a Utah architect and adjunct instructor at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture + Planning. Ms. Larsen, herself a former resident of a mixed-use real estate condo development, says she enjoyed the experience and that “walking became the preferred mode of transportation” because everything was so… available.

It’s All About Curating A Community

The idea behind mixed-use real estate developments is that it blends commercial, residential, and retail spaces together so residents can work, dine, and shop where they live. As Darlene Carter of CW Urban puts it, “residents, tenants, and visitors are all interacting and engaging,” and creating an environment “where people can live, shop, work, and play.”

CW Urban is creating those sorts of communities all over Salt Lake City. Their goal? “To create micro-communities that enhance, strengthen, and contribute to the greater fabric of existing communities.” Like The Ruth, a still-in-progress mixed-use real estate development in Salt Lake City’s Central Ninth district (800 S and 300 W, to be precise).

The Ruth features 17 townhomes—already sold out— “anchored by a 3,000-square-foot commercial space.” The developer, as well as the soon-to-be residents, hopes to “bring in a [commercial] tenant that will add to the vibrancy of the Central 9th neighborhood.” Think yoga studio, multicultural cuisine, artisanal furniture, or microbrewery. Not a car detailing service, chain restaurant, pest abatement, or dry cleaner.

“Mixed-use areas provide a lot of things Utahns want,” says Ari Bruening, president and chief operating officer at Envision Utah. Mr. Bruening lists proximity, convenience, safety, diminished traffic, and improved air quality among the benefits to the larger community that mixed-use development brings. He also adds that mixed-use projects “provide charm and a sense of place,” as well as “the kind of vibrant live-work-play opportunity that a lot of people and businesses are looking for.”

A “public/private partnership,” Envision Utah came about in 1997 as a coalition to “protect Utah’s environment, economic strength, and quality of life.” These three areas of focus—environmental, economic, and quality-of-life—also overlap substantially with the issues that mixed-use development addresses.

Walkability reduces driving, ergo emissions. Theoretically, a tightly-knit neighborhood that offers everything its residents need would also capture more dollars, which would boost the local economy. And quality-of-life? Depends on your vision of perfection: if you’re the “white picket fence in the suburbs type, mixed-use living may not be for you. But for many, it’s ideal.

You’ll Never Have To Leave Your House Again

Live, work, play. These three words, generally abbreviated as LWP, are often used as a synonym for “mixed-use.” A Colliers article on the topic accuses the LWP acronym of inadequacy and recommends a couple of alphabetical additions. “Let’s give this concept the more apt name it deserves,” the writer suggests. “Live-work-play-eat-shop (LWPES).”

Throw in a few more letters and you’d cover the gamut of human activity. But Colliers makes a good point: stepping out for a quick bite is downright convenient if the eatery is on the same block (or better yet, in the same building). And you’re much less likely to hit up Amazon if your neighborhood includes a store selling exactly what you need.

LWP/mixed-use can refer to developments that literally stack retail and residential in the same building, or to neighborhoods that contain the LWP ingredients. The idea is that communities are “designed around a ‘five-minute walk’ concept,” says Mr. Bruening. “The key is that people can get from one use to another using a local road.”

Mr. Bruening cites South Jordan’s Daybreak community, City Creek, Holladay’s Village Center, West Valley City’s Fairbourne Station, central Sugarhouse, downtown Ogden, historic downtown Provo, and Park City Main Street as some of Utah’s most prominent “five-minute-walk” areas.

The Park East II development near Kimball Junction also provides “multi-functional space providing unlimited options for live, work, and lifestyle.” Optional apartments over commercial space even allow owners to live above their business if they choose.

Park City Brewery plans to relocate there—its current home in Park City, apparently, can’t accommodate the larger tanks it so desperately needs to keep up with demand—as will “a software business, a construction company, and a car and motorcycle collector” (per reportage by the Park Record). In this case, residents purchase rather than lease, at costs competitive, according to the developer, to leasing an equivalent property. And, if they choose to live in the development, they’re paying for a single property, rather than a home and commercial space separately.

Mixed-Use Real Estate Is The Solution To Big City Problems

Regardless of whether mixed-use developments are stacked, sprinkled throughout a neighborhood, or in some other configuration, it seems to be the wave of the future. And of the past. Rome of 80 BCE would be recognizably LWP, as would London of 1566, Baghdad of 1100, Antwerp of 1412, or Constantinople of 799. For that matter, much of the underdeveloped world has living space, working space, and public space so proximate it’s sometimes hard to draw a boundary between them. When transportation is limited and cottage industry the default career path due to lack of a job economy, LWP is the natural state of things. It’s only in highly-industrialized societies that live-work-play is a revolutionary concept.

Naturally, many folks will still want their suburban spread, their gated golf community, their Victorian home nestled in the historic district. But for many, the live-work-play arrangement appeals, and it also solves a lot of spatial issues.

See, the Wasatch Front is hemmed in, and Utah’s population is booming. One option is to build up (the Manhattan solution), stacking folks skyward to get more bodies on a single acre of ground. Another option (and these don’t foreclose one another) is to mix residential and commercial usage. As it turns out, both commercial and residential take up a lot of space, but when designed to intermingle, much more can occur in the same footprint.

“We have a shortage of housing in Utah,” explains Mr. Bruening, “so there’s no reason we can’t include housing in every retail development.” Additionally, “we find ourselves with more and more commercial areas that can’t support as much retail as they did in the past.” And, voila! “These are great places to transform into mixed-use areas by adding housing.” As an added bonus, “the housing will provide customers for the remaining stores.”

Not only do mixed-use real estate developments use acreage more effectively, but they also keep cars off the streets (traffic being a notorious side effect of population growth, this is no small potatoes). “Research shows that a well-designed mixed-use area can reduce driving by as much as 50 percent,” says Mr. Bruening, “so these kinds of places are helping to reduce congestion and emissions as we grow.”

Ms. Larsen concurs. Mixed-use projects, she says, can “lessen the housing crisis, increase the quality of many lives… and help reduce air pollution.” So what’s not to like?

Jacob Andra is a writer, award-winning digital marketer, and technologist living in Salt Lake City. Specialties include account-based marketing, growth hacking for startups, blockchain, fintech, and international issues. He enjoys history, the outdoors, podcasts, and a good book.