As developers of high-end mixed-use buildings look for ways to offer unique dining options to their residents, many are now turning to food halls as a key element in their retail mix.
"As we right-size retail now, chef-driven food halls work because people want to live locally," Bayer Properties CEO Jeffrey Bayer said. "They don't want chain restaurants."
Bayer joined Cooper Carry principal David Kitchens and Coventry Development Corp. Executive VP Keith Simon at the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) conference in Denver, June 14-17, to discuss new trends in mixed-use and transit-oriented design.
Food halls -- think East End Market in Audubon Park -- are flex-commercial spaces with a highly curated mix of specialty food vendors.
"It has to be authentic," Bayer told GrowthSpotter. His firm introduced food halls in urban mixed-use projects in Lexington, Kentucky and Birmingham, Alabama.
"We wanted to offer Ethiopian, Vietnamese – cuisines that aren't readily available in the market," he said. "There's no Ethiopian restaurant in Birmingham, so I went to Atlanta to find the best Ethiopian vendor I could find and get him to relocate."
That kind of variety appeals to Baby Boomers and Millennials, and the food halls actually serve as incubators for the local restaurant industry, he said.
"The people who are living in these facilities want this experience," Bayer said. "If you want to remain true to that, sometimes you have to say no. We had a chance to bring in Cheesecake Factory, and I had to say no. They went in across the street at the mall, and it almost killed me. But in the end, it was the right call."
The concept is already being adapted for suburban mixed-use districts by developers, like Tavistock Development, which has its own restaurant group to place new dining concepts in its town centers.
The panel also touched on elements of success for mixed-use development in large-scale master-planned communities. Orlando has its share of established communities, such as Celebration and Baldwin Park. The bulk of undeveloped land in Osceola County's urban growth boundary -- including Sunbridge and the East Lake Toho corridor -- is designated for future mixed-use.
Coventry specializes in creating walkable communities in large greenfields. Springwoods Village, a 2,000-acre master planned community northwest of Houston, is anchored by a new global headquarters for Exxon Mobil, a hospital and a Hewlett Packard campus.
Simon said Coventry's projects are thriving because the ownership group had the patience to wait until they had attracted a major jobs engine before starting the residential development.
"That's almost unheard of in the U.S.," he said. "Our owners are Europeans. They purchased some of these assets 35 to 50 years ago."
At Springwoods Village, the 60-acre urban center will include 4 million square feet of office space, several hotels, 2,500 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial.
"This kind of community creates a competitive advantage for employers," Simon said.
It's exactly the kind of strategy Osceola County employed when it invested $70 million to build the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center at NeoCity, a 500-acre mixed-use community that will combine a high-tech research park with office, hotel, retail and residential development.
Cooper Carry's Kitchens said the SunRail extension will be another catalyst for more intense mixed-use development around the new stations.
Creating a cohesive development plan for the Poinciana Station is more of a challenge because that area was originally approved as an industrial park, and many of the large undeveloped tracts still have vested rights for industrial use.
Osceola County's Development Review Committee this month approved a plan for AV Homes to convert an 82-acre tract from industrial to a mix of residential office and neighborhood commercial uses.
"The biggest challenge when introducing new public transit is planning around the terminus station," Kitchens said. "We dealt with that in Prince George's County – it was the last station on the line. Often times, those areas have the wrong zoning to do TOD design."
Kitchens said in cases like Poinciana, the local government would be well advised to initiate a rezoning that creates incentives for TOD.
"Vested rights can be protected – you can do industrial in mixed use," he said. "But the county would incentivize residential and commercial over industrial."