ULI: Open Space Can Deliver Significant Return on Investment

Developers can see a return on investment by incorporating parks and open spaces in their properties, reported the Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C.

“Active open spaces are proven to deliver an excellent return on investment, often supplying far more in benefits than they cost to construct,” said SWA Group Principal Elizabeth Shreeve. “These benefits accrue to private development while effectively strengthening communities and opening opportunities for all.”

SWA Group is a landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm headquartered in Sausalito, Calif.

ULI’s The Case for Open Space report studied 30 projects with open space supported by the private sector across the United States. It found mechanisms related to partnerships, funding, zoning and local engagement have allowed developers to support open space projects while delivering significant community benefits.

Open space project benefits include increased buy-in from public officials and investors, faster zoning approvals, the ability to capture strong market demand for parks and open space and new sources of revenue streams, ULI said.

The report highlighted five projects that incorporated open space into their developments:
–Hunter’s Point South in Queens, N.Y. is a mixed-use affordable housing development with 925 permanently affordable housing units, 20,000 square feet of new retail space, a new public school, a community facility space and an 11-acre waterfront park. When completed, the development should spur more than $2 billion in private investment and create nearly 4,600 jobs.

–Levy Park in Houston is a nearly six-acre neighborhood park where maintenance is funded through private development. After its redevelopment, Levy Park became the central component for an 11-acre urban activity center that now sees nearly 10,000 visitors a week, up from only 75 visitors before redevelopment.

–Grand Park, a 12-acre public park is downtown Los Angeles, transformed a formerly underused public space into a gathering place for cultural events, music performances, festivals and fitness classes. Collaborating with Los Angeles County, a private developer invested $50 million to build the park in advance of plans for an associated mixed-use project nearby.

–Guthrie Green in Tulsa, Okla., a 2.6-acre former truck-loading facility turned into an urban park. Since opening in 2012 it has become the area’s leading park with 3,000 visitors a week. Guthrie Green has drawn $150 million in public-private investment into a variety of commercial and residential projects in downtown Tulsa.

–Solaris Plaza in Vail, Colo., where a developer repurposed a former parking lot and shopping center into a mixed-use project with a central gathering place for residents and visitors. Solaris Plaza hosts year-round events such as a weekly farmers market and the GoPro Games. Vail operates the space but the developer provided capital to build the plaza and remains responsible for maintaining it.

Shreeve said the report seeks to provide ideas and “a winning formula” for owners and real estate developers as they consider whether and how to invest in the public realm. “When undertaken thoughtfully, the creation of privately owned or operated [and] community-accessible open spaces can provide equitable access to resources, strengthen communities, reduce execution risk and contribute to a solid bottom line for real estate investment,” she said.