Creating a Win-Win Scenario in Mixed-Use Projects

Keys to capitalizing on mixed-use foot traffic to maximize residential occupancy.

By Diana Pittro, Executive Vice President at RMK Management Corp.

diana pittro thumbnailIn recent years, mixed-use developments have evolved to become the gateway to augmenting a city’s vibrant, bustling lifestyle scene with urban centers nationwide fully embracing the trend. Chicago is no exception. The combination of retail shifts to urban centers with the unique demands of Millennials is a driving force behind these popular live-work-play communities.

With the increased excitement around such communities, the need for top-notch residential property management is more important than ever. Retail clients tend to flock to communities with a strong residential presence due to built-in foot traffic, and that strength comes from enlisting management partners with a proven track record of rapid lease-ups, resident retention and partner collaboration. The symbiotic relationship between retail and residential can be the cornerstone of fostering high occupancy on both sides of the mixed-use coin.

NEWCITY. Credit: as ©David Seide/

NEWCITY. ©David Seide/

One example of a successful retail/residential partnership is the NEWCITY development in Chicago, a city known for its “make no small plans” approach to urban development. When the concept for a new city-within-a-city in the already popular Lincoln Park neighborhood was introduced, interest in true live-work-play neighborhoods was beginning to pick up serious steam. The momentum slowed briefly during the recession, but as the clouds of the economic slowdown cleared, a bright picture of the NEWCITY development began to take shape. High-end retail clients began filling its 400,000 square feet of commercial space and there was noticeable interest in the Residences at NEWCITY, the 19-story residential tower around which the mixed-use development is centered. Positioned atop a portion of the community’s retail component, 10 percent of the 199-unit luxury rental building was leased before construction was complete.

NEWCITY. ©David Seide/

NEWCITY. ©David Seide/

When RMK Management, a Chicago-based residential property management firm with nearly 7,000 apartment homes under management, was tapped to manage the residential portion of the project, the company knew the retail component of the project would be an asset to increasing residential occupancy. Anchor tenant Mariano’s Fresh Market, along with notable retail, dining and entertainment options such as Z Gallerie; Saks off 5th; Earl’s Kitchen; ArcLight Cinemas; and Kings, an upscale bowling alley; combined with a strategic location and exceptional retail property management, would provide the organic foot traffic necessary to generate excitement about living in this unique community.

While the foot traffic generated by a-list retail offerings is helpful in boosting the residential capacity, it’s important to employ proactive strategies to capture the attention of people attracted by the retail and entertainment offerings.

Several tactics have been successful in capitalizing on the foot traffic at this large, mixed-use development:

  • Developing website and collateral pieces to be inclusive of retail and residential clients
  • Using social media outlets to maximize coverage by linking separately developed channels
  • Creating a perk program including retail discounts for residents
  • Touring potential residents with a focus on the retail aspects of living the mixed use lifestyle.
  • Making sure signage cross-promotes retail and residential entities in the community
  • Inviting interested residents to all NEWCITY events, especially if there are grand opening activities
  • Offering a discount on rental fees to retail employees
  • Including information and discounts from retail clients as part of move-in packages for residents
  • Allowing and encouraging retail clients to access business services such as the meeting facilities and cyber lounge offered in the residential component of the community

However, not all mixed-use projects are the same. They can vary greatly with regard to maximizing the unique opportunities to increase resident occupancy rates and overall satisfaction. At the 80-unit Residences at Central Station in Evanston, Ill., RMK often taps Ten Mile House, the in-building restaurant, to supply the food for resident events, and the restaurant, in turn, offers exclusive discounts for residential clients. When RMK was selected to manage the 199-unit Halsted Flats in Chicago, there would be a natural connection between residents in this pet-friendly building and the convenience of the attached PetSmart store. It can be as simple as having built-in reciprocity. Residents appreciate the convenience of shopping for their pets while PetSmart customers are inclined to seek pet-friendly housing and may, in turn, consider Halsted Flats as a rental option.

It’s no surprise that residential clients find it extremely attractive when retail and dining options are just steps from where they live. What makes one property manager stand out from the others is how they capitalize on the opportunities to cross-promote the residential and retail components. It’s not complicated to create a win-win situation in mixed-use situations.

Diana Pittro is the executive vice president at RMK Management Corp. A property management professional for over 20 years, Pittro received her B.A. from Cal State and has received her designation for Accredited Resident Manage. She has also served on the Executive Committee and as a Board Member for the Chicagoland Apartment Association (CAA) and was CAA president for five years. Pittro is currently on the board of directors for the National Apartment Association. RMK Management Corp. manages over 7,000 apartment homes in the Chicago, Indiana and Minneapolis areas. The company’s portfolio spans a range of apartment types, from high-rise and mid-rise buildings to two- and three-story walk-up apartments, garden apartments and affordable housing. RMK also develops, builds and renovates communities.