Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ULI madness

I have been absent from here and the Metblog because I entered the ULI Urban Design competition with some teammates from Georgia Tech.  You get two weeks to come up with a financially feasible development plan for a real site.  The site this year was the Denver Design District, an aging big-box power center and interior design showcase center (kind of like ADAC).  We had to come up with a development plan which kept all of the existing tenants (including KMart, Sam's Club, and Pep Boys).  We post marked the project at about 10:30pm Monday, about as close to the deadline as possible.

One team member was Aria, who has posted here before and who hopefully will do a post for me later on the urban design aspects of our project.  Right now I just want to post some great renderings and neat phasing images which show how our team approached the project.  

We decided to keep all the existing big box stores and build in a street grid around them.  We also added liner buildings to help integrate the buildings into our re-built street system.  We have some mid-rise office buildings near a light-rail transit station, with a large esplanade running from the transit station through our main activity center and connecting the site with existing neighborhoods.  We also have a large movie theater to anchor a second activity center south of the main drag.  You can see the existing site here on google maps.  

Our overall "vision" was to try and harnass the tension between the divergent forces not only in our site but with American society.  I mean, I love seeing bands in venues like the Earl, but I buy my jeans at Target.  A friend of mine always tempered my new urbanist rants with "hey man, people gotta buy cheap clothes somewhere."  I think we've reached a point where people are a lot more comfortable with mixing independent and corporate cultures (well, at least I have).  Part of this is because corporate machinery has gotten so good at taking over things, of course.  

Anyway, the project was about reconciling these tensions through urban design, and finding a way for big box stores and independent culture to co-exisit.  So we hid the parking, preserved traditional in-line stores along on edge of the site, and used the big boxes as draws for a lot of the new in-line retail spaces.  We kept the building heights as low as possible because the neighboring areas have reacted poorly to the actual property owners' attempt to build 12-story buildings on the whole site.  We have 2-3 stories of retail infill on the areas bordering these neighborhoods, keep most of the buildings 5-6 stories, and have a few 8-10 story buildings near the transit station.  These buildings would also have great visibility from the highway, and awesome views of downtown Denver and the Rockies.  

Clicking the pics will take you to my picasa album where you can see larger versions of the pics and click through to see the phasing pretty easily. 

My piece of the project was officially the financial feasibility and pro forma - all the pretty pictures were whipped up by the other (fantastic) team members.  Keeping the density relatively low meant that our model utilized things like Low Income Housing Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits to fill in the gaps.  Because the project is pie-in-the-sky ULI stuff, we had to bump up our construction costs with for LEED/green building stuff like the rooftop gardens we want to put on top of our big-box stores and the green parking decks.  

I still have a lot to learn, but overall I am pretty pleased with how the pro forma (and really the whole project) turned out.  Also, I probably had more fun on this project than I have in a very long time.  Sure, the rest of my school work suffered tremendously and I didn't sleep at all last weekend, but it was a blast.  We had a great team that worked very well together, we laughed a lot, and put out a great project in only two weeks. 

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