AMLI Uptown Orange – The Problem of Parking

Shopping Center Business

May 2, 2016

AMLI-Uptown-Orange-PoolResidents of AMLI Uptown Orange will have the beneft of living in a vibrant city-center environment, with major employers, shops and restaurants close to them in the neighborhood, while living in a new apartment community with a pool, ftness center, business center and outdoor gardens.

The United States devotes a lot of land to parking, with nearly 500 million parking spaces nationwide. That equates to around 4 million acres or 6,000 square miles of surface parking — an amount of space roughly equal to the land area of Hawaii. With about 250 million cars on the roads today, that’s more than 700 square feet or two surface parking spaces for every single car. It probably doesn’t seem like it when you are circling the block for the tenth time looking for that perfect space, but trust me — we have plenty of parking in this country.

Remember, that’s just surface parking — nothing above or below those spaces. It doesn’t account for parking structures, mixed-use projects or garages attached to suburban single-family homes across the U.S. If those are added, the total spaces skyrockets into the billions by some estimates.

It is no mystery how we got here. The growth patterns of the United States are well documented. The sprawling development of most American cities has solidified the dependence on the automobile, with cars and roads claiming more and more real estate. This, in turn, continues to spread development out further, which fosters the need for more auto infrastructure. The cycle goes on and on.

The origin of this problem is twofold, and not easily separated. The American love for the automobile is undeniable. We have a long history of loving to hit the open road, unencumbered by train or bus schedules — masters of our own domain. On the list of must-haves for homebuyers, a private garage perennially ranks at the top. Interestingly, walkability is important to homeowners as well. Therein lies the rub: If you devote surface space to the car, you make the community un-walkable.

City regulations are also part of the equation. Spurred by the public’s desire to have easy and accessible parking and to avoid conflict and calls to city hall, city planners continue to require parking at ratios that ensure that parking is a huge factor in the allocation of land, as well as one of the most visible and unappealing contributors to our built environment. Not only do people not walk in the suburbs because things are far away — they also don’t walk because the walk is un-attractive and monotonous. People will walk farther if the route is interesting, and that is difficult to accomplish with parking lots. You can plant trees, but it’s still a parking lot.

AMLI-Uptown-Orange-(1)The design concept for AMLI Uptown Orange maximizes the use of land by building new multifamily residential on existing parking and sharing the new parking with the existing Doubletree Hotel.

Cities like San Francisco understand this. In most cities, parking is regulated using minimum numbers of required spaces. In San Francisco, it’s the opposite. Parking there is governed through maximums — they would love you to provide no parking at all. That strategy is not always realistic, but the policy has contributed to San Francisco being one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. When land is not devoted to cars, densities are increased, walkability improves and real estate prices go up, leading to more development.

There are enlightened cities and developers out there that have worked on this problem and understand that success doesn’t necessarily mean putting the automobile at the top of the priority list. Sure, for the foreseeable future it will be a factor, but ranking placemaking ahead of logistics is key in the fight to develop livable, desirable environments.

Building on parking lots is not a new idea. For the last couple of decades, developers have been slowly filling the missing teeth in the mouths of downtowns across the country. Typically small in-fill projects have helped to bring life to those dead and dying urban cores. Scores of residents have moved downtown, and with them, restaurants and shopping opportunities have multiplied. Neighborhoods that were formerly buttoned up at five have become 18 hour-a-day live, work and play environments.

This leaves sites that are not in an urban core floundering. There is abundant retail, but not abundant great retail. Shifting demographics, shifting development patterns and the boom of online shopping has shopping center owners scrambling to reinvent, reimagine and overhaul their tired centers in the hopes of creating a place worth going to. No longer simply space leasers, shopping center owners need to be entertainers. The competition for American’s discretionary time is at an all-time high, and capturing a small piece of it for shopping is challenging.

In California, there is a housing shortage that some might deem a crisis. An apartment boom has been underway for five years and supply is increasing, but construction costs and land prices are soaring. It’s becoming very difficult to make apartment deals pencil. There is only so much rent escalation that can be built into a pro-forma, and the pool of renters willing to pay top dollar rents is finite.

This is where the suburban shopping center comes in. Increasingly, we’re being asked to look at parking fields. That land has a low cost basis at this point, and is probably not being used at its best use in the booming apartment market. Development on these parking lots represents multiple opportunities.

The land is available. Even on some of the busiest shopping days of the year, there is ample parking available in the lot. It can be logistically challenging to build in an operating shopping center’s parking lot, but not impossible if you are creative. Building simple and efficient replacement parking in a garage is often less expensive than land costs. From a long-range view, this strategy makes financial sense.

There is also an ability to rebrand. New apartments can be the facelift a shopping center needs to position itself as relevant again. It’s a chance to put new residents near shopping, which is always a good thing. It provides a chance to lease space to tenants who feel a kinship with the development’s residents. If it’s hipster millennials you are after, how much easier is it to find the boutique coffee tenant if you can say there will be 500 people that fit exactly their customer profile moving in right next door. The synergy possibilities with this strategy can be amazing.

If the residential units and the shopping center work together aesthetically, spatially and programmatically, it should be a huge shot in the arm for both. Every survey of apartment dwellers ranks being in a live and play environment at the very top of their list. Yes, to meet the play requirements, the make-up of the mall may have to shift, but most suburban apartments can’t come close to a walking entertainment district. At most, they’ll be on the other side of the street from the malls parking lot, and that’s still a hike.

AMLI-Uptown-Orange-(4)The colored fins with graphics on the garage at AMLI Uptown Orange provide the opportunity for branding and identity for the greater Uptown Orange neighborhood. This becomes a piece of art for the community.

The well-publicized decline of some departments stores has developers reconfiguring and reimagining what becomes of this substantial land bank. It is a fantastic opportunity for the developers and the department stores, who may see a gain from the sale of the real estate. The folks at Westfield are breaking into the residential world with a residential component as part of their huge makeover of Westfield UTC in La Jolla.

Greenlaw Partners is developing several sites near The Outlets at Orange with each project providing replacement parking in the form of parking structures with the remaining land being used for apartments. This form of redevelopment makes better use of the land, makes for a better mall entry and gives the whole development a more significant presence.

The car won’t leave us anytime soon, but the days of sprawling green field development with large scale regional malls to fulfill the shopping needs of its public are behind us. The new paradigm is mixed use. With a more enlightened public, more open municipalities and even more creative shopping center owners and developers, we sit at the edge of a remaking of the suburban fabric — a fabric that will allow more people, goods and services, restaurants and entertainment in a more accessible and artful way than ever before.

More on Walkability