LOCUS developer project will turn strip mall into transit-oriented development

It’s an all too common sight throughout the U.S.: a big-box retailer surrounded by a sea of parking lots, with a gas station near the entrance, the whole area spotted with a handful of token trees.

LOCUS Steering Committee member Ed Lipkin and his firm EBL & S Development had other ideas for a generic lot just like this in San Mateo, Calif.

His project, Station Park Green, is a transit-oriented, mixed-use development that will be located on a site once home to a Kmart, Michaels and a gas station. The 12-acre project will include 599 residential units, 10,000 square feet of office facilities, over 60,000 square feet of retail.

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Walkable neighborhoods gaining popularity – even in the suburbs

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

Last week, my colleague Chris Leinberger wrote a provocative op-ed in the New York Times titled “The Death of the Fringe Suburb.” Leinberger, who is president of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, which is a project of Smart Growth America, highlighted the convergence of a number of factors in heralding the decline of far flung, auto-dependant exurbs. Rising gas prices, demographic changes, and shifting consumer preferences have all made these areas less attractive to homebuyers — a fact reflected in the financial troubles and foreclosure crises many of these communities face.

This gloomy portrait, however, is only the prelude to Leinberger’s discussion of an exciting new wave of demand for real estate. Today, the most valuable housing is in center city and inner suburb communities where shops, schools and homes are within walking distance of one another. More and more Americans want to live in these affordable and accessible neighborhoods — and the proof is in the prices of homes in these areas. Perhaps even more importantly, this type of development is where the knowledge economy thrives, helps support regional economies and promotes environmental sustainability.

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“The Death of the Fringe Suburb” and the next wave of real estate development

This past weekend, Christopher Leinberger wrote a provocative op-ed in the New York Times about why exurban America – which has been hard hit by foreclosures in recent years – won’t rebound, even if the economy does.

Leinberger, who is President of Smart Growth America’s project LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, went on to explain why the future is so dim for these places, and what Americans are looking for instead.

High home values and low vacancy rates in the country’s city centers and inner suburbs mean that Americans want to live in mixed-income, pedestrian-friendly areas that “support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs.” Outer fringe areas are failing to offer these features – and they will fail in the marketplace as a result.

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Building for a new America: RailVolution 2011 in Washington, DC

To understand the new American dream, we have to understand the new America.

This was the theme of today’s opening plenary session at RailVolution, a four-day conference dedicated to discussing strategies for building livable communities served by transit. This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington, DC, will discuss the best strategies to support downtowns, the benefits rail can bring to a regional economy, and policy initiatives that can support these goals.

Opening this morning’s plenary was Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. Joining him was Manuel Pastor, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Both Leinberger and Pastor spoke about shifting trends in the United States, and how these shifts will influence communities’ strategies for building homes, business areas and transportation networks. The U.S. is diversifying both ethnically and racially, Pastor explained, and the suburbs in particular are growing more diverse than ever before. These aren’t the only changes at work, however. Leinberger added that the U.S.’s population is growing older, as millions of Americans reach retirement age. The number of homes in America without children is also on the rise, and young people are increasingly moving to cities and urban areas.

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LOCUS steering committee members honored at ULI Terwillinger Center Awards Gala

The Urban Land Institute’s Terwillinger Center for Workforce Housing held its annual awards gala in September to recognize communities, real estate developers and policymakers in promoting workforce housing affordability. The Jonathan Rose Companies, led by LOCUS steering committee member Jonathan Rose, received the Jack Kemp Workforce Housing Model of Excellence award for their Tapestry development in East Harlem, New York. The award is given in honor of former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp in recognition of four developers who have used innovative financing and design strategies to build developments and offers units at both market rate and below-market rate for residents.

LOCUS Steering Committee member Eric Larson also attended the event to present the Robert C. Larson Workforce Housing Public Policy Award, which recognizes the commitment of a state or local government that is dedicated to the production, rehabilitation and preservation of workforce housing. New this year, the award is named in memory of Larson’s father, Bob Larson, a leading real estate developer and investor chair of the Resolution Trust Corporation and former ULI chairman. This year’s award recipient is the city of San Jose.

“My father believed that a keen sense of community would emerge when dedicated, smart people do the right thing. And public policy, with strong leadership, is key to the lasting quality of a community,” Larson said. “We are thrilled that San Jose is the first recipient of this award bearing my father’s name.”

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Shifting demand spurs new development in downtown Las Vegas

Real estate developers in Las Vegas are seeing growing demand for homes downtown.

An article in the Las Vegas Sun this week chronicles the change, explaining that offers for homes in the heart of the city are coming in above asking price, and as new amenities are created in the city developers expect demand to rise even higher.

“That’s what you need for a city to grow is rental housing,” said New York developer Barnet Liberman, as quoted by the Sun. “There shouldn’t be any barrier for lower-income people to be able to grow and prosper. The only question for developers, guys like myself, is they’ve got to know that there’s a real solid, almost certainty that if they do A, B and C, then they get D. When you see that the city is behind you in terms of a common goal, it helps eliminate some of the risk.”

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Building for Prosperity: Louisiana's Smart Growth Summit

Baton Rouge, LA – Developers, advocates, designers and civic leaders from across the region and around the country gathered last week for Louisiana’s sixth Smart Growth Summit. Hosted by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), this year’s summit focused on the economic opportunities created by smart growth.

CPEX, which works primarily in Baton Rouge, is known across the state as the leading advocate for strategic redevelopment, land use and transportation planning. In 2006 the group led a state-funded visioning effort called Louisiana Speaks which engaged 27,000 people in a conversation about the state’s future. Cities, towns and parishes across the region joined the smart growth dialogue, and the results are already apparent in local plans and politics.

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LOCUS President Chris Leinberger promotes increased transit investment in Georgia

Last Wednesday, LOCUS President Christopher Leinberger traveled throughout the Atlanta metropolitan region meeting with political and business leaders to lend support for the upcoming Transportation Investment Act referendum and to advocate for public transportation’s unique role as a driver of the region’s economic development.

In 2010, Georgia lawmakers passed the Transportation Investment Act, which calls for a statewide vote on whether to raise sales taxes one cent in order to fund mass transit, road, and other transportation projects in the state. The legislation divides the state into 12 regions and allows elected officials from each region to choose certain transportation projects to be funded by the tax. Currently, regions are compiling their list of transportation projects to be placed for a vote in 2012 voters.

Joined by Ray Christman, Director of Livable Communities Coalition at a Georgia Passenger Rail Coalition sponsored press conference in downtown Atlanta overlooking the future Multi-modal Passenger Terminal, Leinberger delivered a presentation on the latest trends in real estate and how demographic shifts are pushing demand toward transit-oriented, walkable development, which, as Leinberger concludes, is the next critical component of metro Atlanta’s economic development portfolio.

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Value capture: an innovative strategy to fund public transportation projects

Officials in Shenzhen, China, this month announced a $900 million project to expand the city’s metro system in anticipation for the XXVI Universiade Games. City officials hired the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation – best known for running and managing Hong Kong’s mass transit system – to build and operate the ten-mile-long, ten station extension.

Unlike most transit operators around the world, MTR maintains a robust development portfolio that produces revenue far greater than its transit fares. Most of MTR’s properties surround the company’s rail lines, and in many instances – such as in Hong Kong – MTR received the properties from the city in return for financing and operating a transit system. In essence, MTR provides metro service below ground in return for property above. This strategy is called “value capture.” Although it’s not yet clear whether Shenzhen’s expansion will use this model, the speculation about using value capture there reaffirms the idea’s financial viability.

In Latin America, value capture has been utilized to help fund Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in cities such as Bogota, Columbia and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Property values have increased dramatically along BRT corridors as a result of the improved transit, and the local government has been able to recoup public funds used to finance the system through increased value of government-owned properties along the line. Both Bogota and Sao Paulo helped pay for new transit lines by betting property values would increase along those corridors.

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LOCUS members gather for 2011 annual summer meeting and advocacy day

Members of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, representing some of the leading transit-oriented development companies in America, gathered in Washington, DC on June 15 and 16 to meet with each other and visit representatives on Capitol Hill.

LOCUS members met representatives from nearly 40 Congressional offices to discuss how federal transportation investments can better support one of the fastest-growing segments of America’s housing and real estate market: walkable, mixed-use development.

If you or your organization are interested in advocating for sustainable real estate at the federal level, consider joining LOCUS today. Learn more >>

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