When partners Scott Boyd and Ken Kupp of Boyd Development flew to Boston in July 2013, they were just starting to master-plan 150 acres of undeveloped commercial land for Hamlin's lakefront town center, where construction begins later this year.
But it was there at Harvard University, during a three-day executive seminar on town center development, that the two were inspired to take Hamlin planning to a new level.
They brainstormed with city planners, architecture and development peers, and took notes on walkable Cambridge's nearly 400 years of mixed-use history. They met seminar speaker Bob Gibbs, noted planner and retail market analyst.
They also befriended Terry Shook, lecturer and renowned urban planner, whose advice the Boyd duo would bank on over the next two years to perfect the largest town center project Central Florida has ever seen.
"Terry has done hundreds of town center concepts over 30 years or more," said Kupp, partner with Boyd Development. "He's seen the good, bad and ugly relative to town centers and has a refined understanding of what needs to be in a town center to be successful and sustainable, how to lay it out, what mix of tenants needs to be there, and how to integrate residential, office and retail.
"We weren't only tapping Terry Shook and his team's ability to design horizontally," Kupp continued, "we tapped his experience on what has worked and hasn't in town centers."
STUDYING SUCCESS & FAILURE Home-building is under way on the 640-acre, $1 billion planned community of Hamlin in Horizon West, where 1,700 single- and multi-family homes will cover a 1.75-mile stretch of the Western Beltway.
But it's the 150 acres (and 1 million-plus square feet of commercial space) at Hamlin's town center that Boyd and Kupp knew could make the interchange of New Independence Parkway and SR 429 a regional destination.
Shortly after Harvard, Boyd Development hired Gibbs for initial retail concept work, as well as Shook's Charlotte-based design and land planning firm, Shook Kelley.
Kissimmee's Celebration, Orlando's Baldwin Park and Charlotte's Birkdale Village (a Shook Kelley design) are some examples of new urbanism with planned town centers now studied by U.S. developers like Boyd and Kupp. They wanted Shook's insight on what went right and wrong with each.
"Celebration and Baldwin Park are studied for their successes on overall planning and the housing side, and for their failures on the retail town center-side," said Terry Shook, founding partner and principal of Shook Kelley.
"Retail lives and dies by accessibility and visibility, and both Celebration and Baldwin Park have internal town centers, which has limited their success," he said. "One thing Celebration did well was proved it could build a successful public space around a body of water."
Waterfront planning was key for Hamlin, as much of the town center will border Lake Hancock. Boyd and Kupp started out with a rough vision of lakefront boardwalks, but Shook Kelley helped the firm maximize a natural asset with docks and open spaces for visitors to enjoy without an obligation to shop, said Boyd.
"Several of the ideas we have adopted (from Shook) and are incorporating are the inclusion of main streets, urban edges and great outdoor spaces, as well as their directive to plan every square inch of the project," he said.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE Boyd Development has incorporated countless design tips from Shook over the past two years on Hamlin town center that would not have come to mind otherwise, Kupp said.
Slowing traffic in the town center with narrow street profiles and parallel parking is now "Town Center Design 101." But when creating a main street, you want to insert a few twists and turns so motorists are repeatedly prompted to look at buildings, Kupp learned.
"We were advised on making simple buildings with great storefronts, and not using columns that block the view to retailers," he said. "With restaurants and cafes, (Shook Kelley) helped us with engaging the street front and sidewalk to create an interaction between people."
Shook's priority of great public spaces at Hamlin left the biggest impression on Kupp.
"Public spaces are the new design anchors of our time, where people can get out, convene and feel good about hanging out," he said. "They don't have to be big, just done intelligently, interspersed through the development that invites people to come park their car and spend time.
"Those insights on public space are things we learned from (Shook Kelley) that we may not have learned on our own," Kupp said.
BUILDING A MEMORABLE LOCATION A point of emphasis during the Harvard seminar is that memorable locations worldwide often match wonderful urbanism with natural spaces, Shook said. Manhattan's Central Park or Beaver Creek, Colo., are good examples, and Shook's research shows millennials and baby boomers are drawn to it.
"At Hamlin we'll have our water and nature, and weave the public realm in and out of the town center to hang out, whether they engage in commerce or not," Shook said. "We know that people will gravitate to public space again and again, and will naturally interact with the commerce in time."
Hamlin's interchange site is key, Shook said, but Boyd and Kupp's veteran insight into retail helped them recognize the need for large discount stores and supermarkets that create a destination. The "want-based" highlights of a town center with fashion, entertainment and dining tenants complement that, but couldn't draw critical mass on their own.
Strategic planning has gone into how Hamlin town center will link to nearby housing, with a high Walkscore a priority for the development, Shook said. Building pathways that aren't boring, but engage the senses and appear safe, are key to convincing Hamlin residents to forego the car and walk to the town center, he added.
Shook Kelley's Birkdale Village is a noted example of successfully turning area residents into walk-first consumers for the town center. Limited parking is part of that.
Birkdale only parks four cars per 1,000 square feet of retail space, common in new urbanism developments. Classic suburban malls traditionally offer six or more spaces per 1,000 square feet.
The wild card with retail center parking is restaurants, which attract large crowds for just a few hours per day. Birkdale Village town center opened more than a decade ago with six restaurants and now has 15, but hasn't added new parking. Residents adapted, with those in the most distant single-family homes now walking a half mile each way to the town center.
"There's a psychographic standpoint to that as well," he said. "Some people are true city-dwellers. But even the most risk-averse person craves a mixed-use environment. With Hamlin, we're creating a broad spectrum that will appeal to both risk-averse and risk-oblivious people."
CONSTRUCTION THIS FALL Boyd Development should start construction in the Fall on the first retail piece of Hamlin town center, a 54,000-square-foot Publix that will anchor a 200,000-square-foot neighborhood shopping center.
A 12-screen cinema will also go under development late this year as an anchor for Hamlin's lifestyle center, to be surrounded by waterfront restaurants, a boardwalk, outdoor event venues and park space along Lake Hancock.
Ground should break on a 193,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter by late December that anchors a 400,000-square-foot retail development covering 50 acres on Hamlin's north end, which fronts SR 429. The property will include at least six junior anchor stores, small retail and restaurants.