Projects feature numerous uses under one roof
By Glenn Roberts, Jr.

Inman News
March 30, 2005

Live, work, swim, eat out, go grocery shopping, stay in a hotel, try on some new fashions, and catch a live musical performance — without leaving the building. The elevator-assisted lifestyle has arrived.

New York City’s Time Warner building, completed a year ago, has it all: restaurants, retail space, luxury condo units, hotel rooms, office space and a jazz club. This “vertical neighborhood” may well be a wealthy homebody’s wonderland. And wealthy is right. One of the spacious penthouse units reportedly sold for $45 million, while two-bedroom units carry a list price of about $3.93 million to $4.2 million

The entire center, which has about 2.8 million square feet of space, took seven years to build and cost about $1.7 billion.

The Time Warner Center development takes mixed-use to the extremes. While some metropolitan and suburban planners are redefining old zoning practices by combining a mix of residential and commercial space within redevelopment and new development areas, some skyscrapers are also hosting a diverse mix of spaces under one roof.

“You almost don’t have to even leave home,” said Esther Muller, a New York City real estate educator and consultant. “I just got back from Las Vegas. It’s the same trend there,” she said. “I think it’s a great concept. I’m encouraging developers to go that route.”

Several high-rise projects are planned in Las Vegas that include luxury condominium units, restaurants and other uses. The 43-story Sky Las Vegas project, for example, is expected to include an estimated 350 units from 800 to 2,500 square feet, with prices ranging from $400,000 to over $3 million. The development will also include retail, dining and entertainment uses.

Muller said the Baby Boomer generation, in part, is fueling the demand for such concentrated, all-inclusive developments. “The lifestyle has changed. This represents a lifestyle where someone else manages much of the headaches. The concept is appealing to them because they don’t have to be there all the time. The concept even goes into the suburbs with gated communities (that have) golf courses, tennis, all the entertainment and restaurants. People like to have the conveniences,” she said.

Conrad Egan, president and CEO of National Housing Conference, also noted that developers are rethinking town center and urban infill projects to include a range of building types in a concentrated area. “It seems to be picking up a lot of speed and momentum across the nation. Not only in core city areas, but also, more significantly, in suburban areas,” he said.

“We’re flying in the face of the outmoded comprehensive planning and zoning framework that many suburban communities have. A lot of zoning is based on a 1960s-1970s kind of thinking process: ‘We’re just going to grow subdivisions in the cornfields forever and connect them with highways.’ Developers are starting to understand that (mixed-use) developments are very desirable.”

Developments that are more integrated and comprehensive may also have an easier time finding financing, Egan said. “There is a very deep and strong market for these kinds of developments. ”The National Housing Conference is a nonprofit association that promotes affordable housing and community development projects.

Clara Fox, a co-chairwoman for the New York Housing Conference, said that some public housing projects of the past, such as giant residential “slab high-rises,” do not work unless the residents of such buildings feel connected to the community in which they live. A mix of uses, such as commercial and residential space, can help bring services and enliven communities, she said. “They make communities actual viable places to live,” she said.

As for futuristic concepts of miles-high mega-buildings that house entire cities — we’re not quite there yet.

In 1996, visionary architect Paolo Soleri created a model for a city within a giant mixed-use structure. He called it the Hyper Building. The design for this city-sized building, which is intended to reduce sprawl and the overall ecologic impact of cities, features about 49.5 million square feet of housing space and an underground parking area with about room for 64,000 private autos and 30,000 commercial vehicles.

About 44 percent of the building was devoted to housing, while 5 percent is devoted to civic and utility space, 15 percent for parks and paths, 13 percent for commercial space, and 18 percent for education, medical and cultural/arts uses. This Hyper Building, as envisioned by Soleri, could support a permanent population of about 100,000 people, with a daytime population of about 140,000 people.

Soleri said that a city in the building, such as the proposal for a Hyper Building, represents a far broader concept than the idea of a vertical neighborhood — or a neighborhood complex housed within one building. “The city can do without a neighborhood, but a neighborhood cannot do without a city,” he said. “The city is the key to human habitat. A good neighborhood is still a mutilated limb of habitat, unless it is an integral part of the city.”