Merging a supermarket with residential is one of the most challenging development combinations, but developers can't get enough of the latest mixed-use trend: anchoring communities with massive grocery stores.
The combination is a natural fit for today's urban dweller, who wants convenience and is willing to pay for it. "It's like having your pantry downstairs," says Tom Baum, president of Greenbelt, Md.-based Bozzuto Development Co. "You've got everything that you would want to purchase right underneath your building, and it creates the ultimate in convenience for the urban lifestyle." Bozzuto is joining the craze with the Delancey, a 241-unit rental community in Arlington, Va., to include a 28,000-square-foot Harris Teeter on the ground floor of one of its three buildings.
Urban grocery stores are in high demand, as revitalized downtown areas flourish with new housing opportunities. "As residential comes back downtown, the retail is now following us," says Baum. Twelve of the 59 stores in the pipeline for Whole Foods Market, an Austin, Texas-based grocery chain that specializes in organic and natural foods, are planned for mixed-use developments in Seattle, New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Whole Foods declined an interview with MFE, citing a policy of not talking to business-to-business publications.)
While a grocery store like Whole Foods is a major draw for residents, it poses a number of challenges for developers. "There's a lot of waste, so you have to be worried about odor, insects, and vermin," says Fred Harris, senior vice president, development at AvalonBay Communities, which is building Avalon Chrystie Place, a 361-unit luxury rental community that will feature Manhattan's largest Whole Foods: an 85,000-square-foot store. To minimize smells, the grocery store will house a large refrigerated garbage storage area.
Plus, a grocery store needs to have an extremely strong infrastructure to support its tremendous amount of mechanical equipment. "You've got to work from the bottom up," says Marvin H. Meltzer, vice president of New York City-based Meltzer/Mandl Architects. "Clearly the supermarket drives the whole thing."
His firm recently designed Bradhurst Court, a 128-unit affordable housing complex in Harlem atop a 45,000-square-foot Pathmark, a grocery store chain with a quarter of its stores in inner-city locations. "All their stores are standardized based upon being a free-standing structure," says Meltzer. "So when you have all this stuff on top of it, it really poses quite a few problems." To lighten the load and provide more design flexibility for the supermarket, the architect switched from a load-bearing wall on top of a steel frame to a structural steel frame throughout.
Another big issue: making sure grocery operations, such as deliveries, don't interfere with the residents. "It's all about presentation so the environment is equally positive for the retail consumer as it for the resident," says Jim Butz, president of JPI East, which is building Jenkins Row–a large mixed-use project in Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill area to include 247 luxury condo units and a 47,000-square-foot grocery store. The project was carefully crafted to separate the grocery store from the housing area, and the loading dock has a fully retractable door. Plus, residents have their own designated parking area.
Despite these challenges, developers are anxious to incorporate grocery stores in their communities. In addition to attracting residents, groceries are a smart way to win over neighbors and politicians. Construction can be a messy process," says Butz. "So while the building is under construction, people will be more understanding because they know they've got something to look forward to." Bring on the prepared meals.
–Rachel Z. Azoff