The Need for Transit-Oriented Design in Long Beach, Calif.’s Redevelopment

Dan Withee, partner, and J. Roderick de la Rosa, senior associate, both of Torrance, Calif.-based Withee Malcolm Architects, discuss one of their latest projects, a mixed-use, transit-oriented development in downtown Long Beach, Calif. Name of Project:  PacificaType of project:  Pacifica is a mixed-use development with 62 condominium units and 5,300 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail. It offers one-, two- and three-bedroom plans configured as single-floor lofts and two-story townhouses that range in size from 664 to 2,139 sq. ft. Describe overall site size and square footage of primary building: It is an urban infill site with a 0.66-acre lot area. The four-story project sits atop one floor of retail and one level of subterranean parking.Client: Lennar Urban with CT Realty Corporation MHN: What were the client’s aesthetic and functional design objectives?de la Rosa: The developer wanted to create what it is now marketing as an “ocean-close urban experience,” with a mixed-use property in the heart of the city of Long Beach’s Promenade District Redevelopment Area. To establish a distinctive urban presence along the active connector, the developers favored a contemporary, civic expression, high-quality materials and a building that would help to define the neighborhood in several ways: as an iconic anchor at the head of the Promenade; as a lively, visible, retail façade on the high-traffic thoroughfare; and as a desirable residential address. Withee: In a region dominated by residential developments with stucco finishes, Pacifica’s contemporary architecture responds to its port city locale with an industrial- maritime sensibility that borrows both its blue/grey palette and unexpected mix of materials from the ships and cargo containers in the nearby harbor. Bay windows of painted and corrugated metal, balconies detailed with steel handrails and sandblasted glass, aluminum storefronts and casement windows contrast with the more classic plaster and travertine.  MHN: Describe the client’s target demographic. de la Rosa: For more than a decade, Long Beach has been successfully developing its urban neighborhoods. With the mix of residential and entertainment uses designated for the Promenade, the target market for Pacifica is decidedly hip, active and upscale. By offering buyers a choice of flats or townhouses, as well as a wide range of floor plans, the development appeals to young singles and couples, first-time buyers and former suburbanites who are ready to experience urban living.  MHN: What were the challenges of this project and how did you resolve them? de la Rosa: The design challenge was two-fold: to make the project an active participant in the urban realm, and to make certain that the vehicular traffic and parking associated with the development did not interfere with circulation along the Promenade.  In order to create a property that would truly engage the urban realm, the design team proposed a number of features that literally extend or permeate the building to blur the edges between private and public space. Bay windows and cantilevered balconies project over the street, while the roll-up glass doors that front the retail shops allow for free-flowing commerce between the indoor spaces and the outdoor seating on the Promenade. At the same time, the architects understood that increased traffic and the demand for parking was potentially a deterrent for future residents and visitors. By placing the entrance to the subterranean garage on Waite Court, the small alley at the back of the development, the design provides secure parking for the building, plus room for “back of house” loading and unloading for the retail tenants off the Promenade. Even the alley side of the development presents a fully detailed façade of a good neighbor.  MHN: Describe the overall housing trends that this project is affecting.Withee: Located within the “Promenade” district in downtown Long Beach, the transit-oriented development is a half block from Los Angeles’ Metro Blue Line light rail line, connecting Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. A public-private venture with the city of Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (LBRDA), Pacifica is part of a comprehensive, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use redevelopment area, slated to include residential, retail and restaurants.As a first step in the reinvention of the Promenade as a major residential, commercial and entertainment destination, the Redevelopment Agency collaborated with four residential developers, including Lennar, and Embassy Suites to develop a mix of for-sale condominiums, rental apartments and a hotel along the Promenade between 1st and 3rd streets. With the first of the residential projects nearing completion, the LBRDA has plans for the redesign of the Promenade itself.  Improvements to the city’s unique walkway will include gateways, landscape, street furniture, lighting and public art plazas.  MHN: What design features make this project stand apart from others in the market?  Describe any innovative materials.Withee: Public spaces are designed with the appeal of a boutique hotel—the sophisticated lobby and clubroom provide privacy and views to the busy street life, while the landscaped courtyard, protected by the U-shape of the building, offers comfortable seating and a fire pit that encourages socializing. The condominiums offer first-rate amenities, including gourmet-inspired kitchens, energy-saving appliances, category 5 high-speed wiring for cable/data/voice, and city and waterfront views. Additional information:As of mid-July, the developer reports that 52 of the 62 units have sold. In June, Hillcrest Development Partners purchased the entire ground floor of the project. The retail space will be leased out to one, two or three tenants.