University Place Creates Model For Next Generation City Centers
By the year 2050, the state of Utah’s population is going to nearly double. With the country’s youngest population and highest birth rate, the state is poised for a population boom that could radically alter its cities, communities and open spaces.
Fortunately, government officials, community leaders and developers are planning now for the rising population tide, hoping to lay a framework for growth that will preserve the things Utahns love about their state: friendly neighborhoods, thriving communities and majestic open spaces.
In 2013, a nonprofit, nonpartisan community organization called Envision Utah launched a survey process to help Utahns envision what they want their communities to look like in the coming decades. In the Your Utah, Your Future process, over 400 stakeholders and experts identified key choices surrounding topics like air quality, transportation and communities, housing, and jobs and the economy. More than 52,000 Utahns participated in the survey, sketching a blueprint for the future of the state, as well as a strategy for making it happen.
- Develop an interconnected pattern of mixed-use neighborhood, village, town and urban centers that bring destinations and opportunities closer to people.
- Build a balanced transportation system that makes it convenient to get around with or without a car.
- Provide a variety of neighborhoods Utahns can choose from, while allowing the housing market to provide a variety of housing options in all communities.
- Connect communities with a system of trails and parks.
- Plan development so that future roads, public transportation, power lines, water lines, job centers, etc., can be accommodated easily and inexpensively.
While the Envision Utah survey helps paint a picture of Utah’s future, the strategies outlined are not new to local developers, who for years have been creating transit-oriented, mixed-use developments along the state’s population-dense Wasatch Front. For developers, such developments are simply meeting an existing demand.
Any change in development trends is driven by both changes in what cities want in their community and what customers want, says Randall Woodbury, president of the Woodbury Corporation, and the resulting projects aim to combine those visions and desires with what will actually work.
“Development trends over the years are largely guided by city planners—a collective of individuals who dream of a community as they think it could or should be. Good developers are also driven to build and improve communities with quality places to live, work, shop, find services and provide entertainment. Developers, however, are constrained in a way that planners are not,” Woodbury says. “Projects must make functional and economic sense, be accepted by the community and provide a reasonable return on investment.”
In the past, some of those trends have included roundabouts, sidewalks slithering through green space, and offices set back from the road by large lawns and acres of parking, he says. Today’s trends are a little different—many customers and cities are clamoring for all-in-one developments with business, residential and entertainment components all stacked together.
While the concept seems good on paper, and works in very dense urban areas, considerations are needed in the development phase to make sure it fits with what Utahns want versus what they think they want, says Woodbury. Problems like mitigating nuisances of noise, odors, early-morning or late-night deliveries, and parking conflicts residents might have by being around restaurants or other businesses have to be weighed against the convenience such a project would provide.
“Stacking varied uses, while trendy, can be problematic. Those problems are accepted in truly dense urban areas (very little, if any of Utah is truly dense urban) because you have no choice,” Woodbury says. “Designing with those concerns in mind will greatly improve the long-term viability of a project.”
FROM VISION TO REALITY
There are some projects, though, that do try to tackle that balance, including the Woodbury Corporation’s $500 million, 112-acre renovation of the University Mall in Orem, dubbed University Place.
Brandon Fugal, chairman of CBC Advisors, says University Place is an “ideal example of dynamic redevelopment within a mixed-use setting.” He says the development will transform one of the highest-profile sites in the market. “How are they doing that? They’re adding ultracontemporary, forward-thinking office space to what has been traditionally retail, coupled with a residential component featuring multi-family properties onsite.”
Fugal says because the project is a multi-generational initiative, “Woodbury has brought together a world-class team of consultants and planners to ensure that the development is truly a long-term legacy for the community.”
Kathy Olson, director of development for the University Place development, says the project has been crafted based on what its target demographic, millennials, wants in a community, as well as what coming generations will need. “The entire project has basically been set up as a mixed-use, walkable community, which is the type of community that the next generation really wants to live in,” she says.
Their interpretation of the community of the future includes 240 residential units currently under construction, 10 sit-down restaurants, 10 fast-food restaurants, a food court, movie theater, four office buildings and a hotel, in addition to shopping across the 1.3 million-square foot mall.
“We pretty much have everything onsite, aside from the post office, which is across the street, that you’d need for your day-to-day living,” she says. “Costco’s on site, you can do your grocery shopping there; there’s a million square feet of retail.”Fugal says that “by offering a true work, play, live environment, Woodbury Corporation is delivering a product that is truly highest and best use.” Woodbury says the current phase of University Place avoids the common pitfalls of stacked communities because housing, retail,
Fugal says that “by offering a true work, play, live environment, Woodbury Corporation is delivering a product that is truly highest and best use.”
Woodbury says the current phase of University Place avoids the common pitfalls of stacked communities because housing, retail, entertainment and businesses are near, not on top of, each other.
“At University Place, we have the advantage of controlling a lot of land, a campus of over 120 acres. This has allowed us to master plan the components of our Town Center design without too much heaping up of the uses,” he says.
For example, the first phase of the project’s multifamily, standalone housing is not attached to commercial or retail uses, but is just steps away from amenities like restaurants, stores and a theater.
“Integrating the different commercial uses is not nearly as delicate as mixing residential with those commercial uses,” says Woodbury. “Covered parking has been created to accommodate the residential and office uses while maintaining the parking ratios required for our retail uses. That said, in future phases, as our town center densifies, we anticipate buildings that will integrate residential above commercial space.”
Also coming to the project is a park the size of two football fields with an outdoor stage, fountain, skating area, free WiFi and an LED screen for watching movies in the park or sporting events. Olson says the park’s activities will be managed by a full-time park programmer, who will coordinate car shows, pumpkin patches, Easter egg hunts, Christmas celebrations and other events in the park, reflecting suggestions or requests from people who live in the area.
For Orem City leaders, the fact that customers have been shopping around the rising development—and that the finished project will have so much retail space—is a relief.
“[Among residents], there was the concern of increased traffic, or at least the perception of density, the overall change of going from a retail shopping center to this new concept,” says Ryan Clark, economic development manager for Orem City. “In Orem we’ve had a strong sales tax base and a lot of that has been the retail base from the mall. Our concern was losing that retail base.”
To ensure that retail base remained in place, Clark says, city leaders tied the allowed number of residential units with the square footage of required retail space—for every 1,000 square feet of retail space, Woodbury Corporation could build 1.5 residential units. The developer, he says, was accommodating to their request, and the project is shaping up as well as or better than projected, exciting city leaders about the future possibilities of the area.
“What we expect is that this project will work as a catalyst and other properties located in the vicinity will look at developing their parcels,” Clark says. Another anticipated result, he says, is higher sales per square foot will draw some higher-end retailers to the project. “With the park and some of the users being looked at coming in around the park, there’s a great opportunity for some energy and a community gathering space. It’s going to be a place people are going to want to be.”
CONVENIENCE AND ACCESSIBILITY
It’s not just millennials showing interest in consolidated communities—baby boomers have also expressed interest in kicking yardwork to the curb in their retirement and living in a place with most amenities nearby, says Olson.
“We’ve been surprised about the amount of interest we’ve had from baby boomers who want to sell their single-family residence and not have to worry about their yards anymore,” she says. “It’s surprising, but it’s not just appealing to the younger generation, but to the baby boomers as well.”
Ari Bruening, COO of Envision Utah, says that’s consistent with Envision Utah’s findings—the needs of the older generation incidentally mirroring the wants of the younger crowd. “As our population ages, that’s something we need to think about— accessibility for people who may not be as mobile, who may be in a wheelchair or who may not be able to navigate stairs. And again, as people age, they may not be able to drive anymore so it’s important to not only be accessible by car,” he says.
That higher focus on convenience without car dependency is a trend Bruening says is growing, and developers will need to keep that in mind as they build now so they don’t have to retrofit projects later.
“The way we’ve built malls in the past is you had a big building and a big parking lot around it, so if you wanted to walk to it, you had to walk a long distance,” he says. “We’re doing better but I think we want to get even better at that.”
Breaking out of a car-dependent culture is a trend Woodbury says is a hot-button issue with developers and city planners alike. “Car-optional design is great for those ready to embrace that lifestyle. Many city planners are trying to force that shift and mandating reduced parking ratios. Although many are embracing [the trend], Utahns are still somewhat rural minded. Further evolution in that regard will take years,” he says, adding that developers and city officials need to plan and design for both.
Creating a consolidated shopping and residential district with less of a focus on automobile travel needs to be thought through so developers don’t inadvertently drive off customers who don’t share that ethic—especially in areas where the overall population density is still fairly sparse, says Woodbury.
“Convenience and accessibility is king. If population density is high enough, ample parking may not be necessary. However, very little of Utah fits that kind of density,” he says.
For Olson, projects like University Place suit both the lifestyle of the rising generation and the centralized community needs of the aging population. And, she says, University Place has room to grow into whatever incarnation the population wants or needs in the future.
“I really do think this is what people are going to be looking for. We’re seeing this type of development springing up across the country, and it has so many benefits for quality of life,” she says. “When we discover things the next generation wants, we will make every effort to put those in, too.”