30 Inspiring Urban Renewal Projects

By Albert Fontenot

"The planning of buildings, city blocks and public spaces determines how businesses, governments, civic organizations, and neighbors come together and interact as a community"

~Laura Bush, then-First Lady of the United States

No matter how large or old a city is, and no matter where it's located, it still needs people to thrive and survive. Cities are living entities and it is possible for a city to start showing signs of age and decay over time. Urban renewal, redevelopment, and revitalization projects are crucial to the success of the city because it stimulates the economy, enhances property values, instills a sense of civic pride, reduces crime, and helps current businesses and attract new ones.

The particular needs of an individual city are unique. Some have older homes that are in disrepair. Some have unused or vacant manufacturing plants from years past. Some have underdeveloped land that could well serve the commercial and residential interests of the city. This list highlights some of the best recent programs and efforts by cities to improve its properties, facilities, and amenities. The entries on this list are varied. Some projects are completed, while many are only in progress. Some projects have only been recently approved. What they all have in common is the significant positive impact on their respective communities.

30. The Downtown Project

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Downtown Project:
"Community development is more about the people than real estate, so physical spaces should reflect the community's values. We're helping to build the most community-focused large city in the world … in the city where you would least expect it."
~Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos and investor of $350 million in downtown Las Vegas
Unlike many urban renewal and revitalization programs, the downtown project is not focusing on an area that is filled with crumbling or rundown buildings. Rather, they are looking to transform downtown Las Vegas into a Mecca for innovators and entrepreneurs. Their stated goal is to turn the city into a place of "Inspiration, Entrepreneurial Energy, Creativity, Innovation, Upward Mobility, and Discovery." The method of doing this is to promote their "3C's," Collisions, Co-Learning, and Connectedness, between forward thinking people. They ambitiously plan on completing this transformation within five years.
Since 2012, the Downtown Project has made an allocation of $350 million towards revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas – $200 million for real estate, $50 million for education, $50 million toward small businesses, and a final $50 million for the VegasTech Fund, which aims to aid and promote tech startups. To date, over 800 jobs have been created.
That Little Bit Extra:
So far, one of the most tangible accomplishments of the Downtown Project is Container Park, repurposed shipping containers that are now restaurants and boutique shops surrounding a central plaza.

29. The River District

Portland, Oregon

Portland Development Commission:
"Potentially, this is an enormous benefit to our city and particularly people who want to live downtown. In my view, this will enhance the whole district, but particularly people priced out of the market in the district."
~Nick Fish, City Commissioner in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau
The Oregon State Constitution gives each city and county the ability to create agencies to implement plans and projects to address blight. The City of Portland recognizes several Urban Renewal Areas (URA's). Plans were made for an array of neighborhood parks, new roads and parking facilities, affordable housing, and other innovative projects in downtown Portland.
As of June, 2012, almost $500 million of debt was allocated and over $250 million was issued by the Portland Development Commission for a number of key improvements. This included $350 million for infrastructure and parking at the Brewery Blocks, development of three public parks and beautification of Oldtown/Chinatown. Also Portland partnered with a local major land owner to finance 3000 new affordable housing units, which transformed an old warehouse into the North American headquarters of a major corporation.
That Little Bit Extra:
According to the Tax Supervising Conservation Commission, property within the River District is now worth over $2.2 billion.

28. Louisville Water Company Block

Downtown Louisville, Kentucky

Omni Hotels, Resorts and Cordish Company:
"You can really start to feel the enormous transformation that's going on in our downtown and how it's good for entertainment and business in the state in so many different areas…This project is a major infusion in our downtown and to the city's entire economy. It will create jobs, both temporary construction positions and permanent jobs, and it will boost our convention and tourism industry as Omni provides a new level of luxury hotel."
~Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer
In March of 2014, plans were announced for a $261 million project to build a 600-room luxury hotel, a 200-unit apartment complex, and an upscale grocery store on the block where the old water company stands. The cost will be divided between the City of Louisville, the State of Kentucky, and the private developers. Construction is slated to begin in 2015 and be completed by 2017.
The apartment complex will provide one- and two-bedroom apartments of between 700 and 1300 square feet, while the hotel is expected to be between 20 and 25 stories and include a rooftop pool and café, a spa, a fitness center, two full-service restaurants, and over 70,000 square feet of meeting space. An 850-space parking garage is also planned, accommodating all three components. The goal is to attract more tourists, making Louisville a base for people visiting bourbon distilleries in the state.
That Little Bit Extra:
Although Omni Hotels, Resorts operates more than 60 unique properties around the world, this is there first project in the State of Kentucky.

27. Metro Area Projects Plan 3 (MAPS 3)

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

"Core to Shore" Steering Committee and the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board:
"In way too many cities across the country, what you see is some flourishing life in the suburbs and a core that has seen its life disappear. In Oklahoma City what we tried to do was put new life into the core of the city. We want to make a city where at five o'clock people still want to stay, whether they want to live or they want to play, or they want to continue to work. We want downtown to be an inviting place."
~Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett
In 2010, voters approved a temporary one-cent sales tax increase to fund the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan Three, commonly called MAPS 3. The plan results in a "pay-as-you-go" series of projects designed to renew and revitalize several areas critical to the continued development of Oklahoma City.
All told, $777 million has been approved for a number of projects, including – $252 million for a 470,000 square foot Convention Center, $132 million to develop a 70-acre public park in the downtown area and $129 million for a modern streetcar/transit system. Also, $58 million was used to improve facilities at the Oklahoma State Fair and $57 million was used to improve the Oklahoma River Boathouse District.
That Little Bit Extra
Mayor Cornett was named one of Governing magazine's "Public Officials of the Year" in 2010. Recently, Oklahoma City has been featured on many lists designating the top American cities – BusinessWeek's "America's Best Places" and Forbes' "Best Places for Business", for example.

26. The East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative

Baltimore, Maryland

East Baltimore Development Incorporated partnered with the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the federal government, along with numerous private funders:
"The success of the East Baltimore development) will depend not just on acting within our boundaries, but the strength of the surrounding neighborhoods."
Laurie Schwartz, acting Chief Executive Officer of East Baltimore Development Incorporated
Beginning in 2002, the goal of the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative has been a large-scale effort to renew a distressed and blighted neighborhood that is adjacent to the John Hopkins University Hospital complex. The goal is to transform the area into a mixed-income residential community that provides economic opportunities for all residents. The total cost of the project is expected to be $1.8 billion.
The long-term goals are very ambitious– over 2000 "green" homes, both new and rehabilitated, 2 million square feet of commercial space, a 31 acre state-of-the-art Science and Technology Park, retail store and a grocery store. Also, a $42 million, 90,000 square foot school campus covering 7 acres, and recreational spaces will be used for the public.
That Little Bit Extra
The Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School (K- Grade 8) and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center comprise the first new Baltimore public school building in East Baltimore in nearly 30 years.

25. Rolling Mill Hill

Nashville, Tennessee

Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency:
"Downtown has been unfolding for over 40 years. It's now becoming a larger urban place. We're trying to bring together a creative community. It will be entrepreneurs interacting with architects in a place where people from all over Tennessee come for meetings."
~Phil Ryan, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency
Once little more than a collection of trolley barns and Art Deco hospital buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this 34-acre site sits on a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River. The trolley barns originally served as the home for Nashville's streetcar line and on the National Register of Historic Places. In recent years, however, the project had been stuck in redevelopment limbo, until recently rehabilitated by a local developer.
Now, it is a thriving live/work community with an ideal location in downtown Nashville's SoBro district, featuring mixed-income residences, studios for artists, and commercial/retail/restaurant space. So far, approximately $50 million of commercial/residential private investment has occurred, along with another $14 million of public money spent on clearing, cleanup, and installation of utilities. In the coming years, it is expected that another $150 million will continue to pour in.
That Little Bit Extra:
The developers have shown their commitment to "green" technology and construction, and consequently, the entire area has been designated as a LEED neighborhood development.

24. Millennium Tower

Boston, Massachusetts

Millennium Partners:
"We strongly believe that this new project will support the further economic resurgence of one of the country's most vibrant urban centers, and will extend residential and retail growth in a continuous stretch from the Theatre District to City Hall."
~Christopher Jeffries, founder of Millennium Partners
On September 17, 2013, the Millennium Tower project officially broke ground. For years, an abandoned venture meant a gutted building and a massive hole sullied a once-thriving Boston neighborhood. In 2012, the cast was taken over by millennium partners. The new project will occupy the footprint of the Burnham Building, location of the former flagship store of Filenes.
Slated for completion in 2016, the $700 million redevelopment will have 60 stories, and contain 1.2 million square feet of residential and commercial space. It will include 450 condominiums and almost 100,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
That Little Bit Extra:
On April 26, 2014, the largest concrete pour in the history of Boston began, when 600 cement trucks poured the slab for the Millennium Tower, taking up 6000 cubic yards of concrete.

23. The Wharf Project

Washington, DC

Hoffman-Madison Waterfront:
"The Wharf will become a compelling waterfront neighborhood, celebrating the District's reconnection to the water while recalling the working waterfront's rich maritime history and commercial activity."
~David Brainerd, Managing Director of Investments of Madison Marquette
In March of 2014, the official groundbreaking was held for a massive $2 billion mixed-use project that has been called "the culmination of decades of work in rebuilding DC's neighborhoods." The effort to get this project underway spanned the terms of three city mayors and required the approval of dozens of local and federal government agencies. The first phase is slated to be completed in 2017.
The project is estimated to create over 2000 jobs and the first phase will include 650 apartments and 225 condominiums. It will include over 600,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space, three hotels with almost 700 rooms, a movie theater, several nightclubs and bars and a concert hall that can accommodate 6000 patrons.
That Little Bit Extra:
The wharf will serve as a pilot project for LEED for neighborhood development, which integrates the principles of smart growth and green building into a national standard for neighborhood design.

22. South Lake Union Developments

Seattle, Washington

Vulcan Real Estate and others:
"Developers coming in is a validation that we have a vision for the neighborhood that is very compelling… I think there's this great opportunity for all players in the neighborhood to get together and work on that neighborhood brand we have worked on for the past 10 years. "
~Laurie Mason Curran, Real Estate Investment Strategy Director for Vulcan Real Estate
A little over a decade ago, South Lake Union in Seattle was little more than 100-year-old neighborhood of unimpressive low-slung industrial buildings. Today, it is the headquarters of Internet giant Amazon, a hub for biomedical innovation, and possibly the hottest housing markets in the country.Vulcan Real Estate has led the way, by creating over 5 million square feet in the last 10 years, and in that same span, more than $5 billion has been spent on infrastructure upgrades and new projects in the area. In 2013, in response to the burgeoning real estate market, the Seattle City Council approved zoning changes which will allow for greater building heights.
Developers are taking advantage of the new rules to make plans for buildings that in the past could only have been built downtown. For example, Vulcan is considering a 400 foot residential tower and a 240 foot office tower. Skanksa USA is considering a 13 story building, Capstone Development is envisioning a 10 story building, and Touchtone Corporation is planning on a two-building complex. Omni Group of Vancouver has planned to build four towers that will provide nearly 2000 housing units and over 40,000 square feet of retail space.
That Little Bit Extra:
The city's Department of Planning and Development estimates that the zoning changes can support 12,000 households and will create more than 22,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

21. Quality of Life Bond

El Paso, Texas

City of El Paso:
"This is more than a redevelopment plan for downtown. It's really an economic and community development plan for the entire city that includes a comprehensive focus on downtown."
~Joyce Wilson, El Paso City Manager
In November of 2012, the citizens of El Paso voted nearly 3-to-1 in favor of authorizing $473 million in bonds to finance nearly 100 public improvement projects. Supporters are hoping that the myriad improvements to the city will lure employers and jobs.
A breakdown of the types of projects shows that $216.25 million will go towards museums and the cultural arts, $195 million will go towards parks, $50 million will go towards the zoo, and $12 million will go to fund improvements in the city's libraries.
That Little Bit Extra:
Even though it wasn't part of the original bond issue, voters also gave their approval to a 2% increase in the hotel occupancy tax of the city, and use the revenue to finance the construction of a new $72 million baseball stadium for the new AAA minor-league baseball team, the El Paso Chihuahuas. The 9,500-capacity facility opened on April 28, 2014.

20. Hantz Woodlands

Detroit, Michigan

Hantz Farms:
"This first part of the project gave a really good feel for the way this type of investment can transform neighborhoods in Detroit… More and more people are seeing Detroit as having arrived at the place where change is going to happen. I'm hopeful that over the next 5 to 10 years, it will really strengthen Detroit's economy."
~Mike Score, President of Hantz Woodlands
This is not your typical urban renewal project and that's a good thing. Some estimates purport that the city of Detroit owns approximately a third of all the vacant properties in the city through foreclosure. It costs Detroit approximately $9 million per square mile to maintain these properties, even though there is no incoming revenue from them. This project buys those blighted properties, clears the land, and plants trees on the vacant property. The eventual goal is to have the world's largest urban farm.
In theory, it could cost the city of Detroit $360 million a year to maintain all of the blighted properties. In 2013, Detroit declared bankruptcy. Hantz Woodlands has currently allocated $30 million to purchase properties, and this has several benefits. The city will no longer have to pay for maintenance costs, and the company will pay property taxes. Jobs will be created when people are hired to work on the farms. Best of all, what was unsightly and dangerous blight becomes an area of planned urban beauty.
That Little Bit Extra:
On May 17, 2014, more than 1400 volunteers convened on the east side of Detroit and planted more than 15,000 trees on 20 acres of vacant Detroit properties in a little over two hours.

19. Strategic Blight Demolition

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit Blight Removal Task Force:
"By eliminating the blight in a neighborhood, we increase the property values, give the folks an incentive to stay in their homes, and therefore, maybe they won't get into a foreclosure problem."
~Scott Woosley, Executive Director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority
In May of 2014, a blight task force put together by the Obama administration reported that over 78,000 buildings – 30% of all buildings in the city – are currently dilapidated or in the process of becoming so. In addition, over 100,000 parcels – again representing 30% of the city's total – are currently vacant and over 90% of public parcels can be considered blighted. The task force has recommended that Detroit tear down approximately 40,000 of these buildings, restore tens of thousands more, and clear the debris from thousands of vacant lots. The cost of this demolition and cleanup will be at least $850 million. Salvaging or demolishing the vacated factories in the city is expected to cost another $1 billion.
This is a long overdue necessary step to help Detroit rebound. The State of Michigan has received $100 million from Troubled Asset Relief Program's Hardest Hit Fund, and it is hoped that by removing dangerous and blighted properties, the property values can be stabilized, foreclosures can be reduced, and the economy in Detroit can be righted. The current goal is to demolish 1200 vacant homes each month.
That Little Bit Extra:
60% of all of Detroit's fires in a year occur at vacant properties.

18. Highpoint at Columbus Commons

Columbus, Ohio

City of Columbus and Capital South:
"The Columbus area has an extremely stable and diverse employment base, highly-educated workforce, strong and stable growth over many years, great engagement and leadership from the private corporate community, and a strong commitment to investing in the city and doing the right things to help it grow."
~Scott Taylor, President of Carter, the developer in charge of the project
In 2007, the City of Columbus and the redevelopment company Capital South purchased the abandoned Columbus City Mall with the intent of demolishing the existing structure and creating a more walkable and livable urban park with distinct retail and residential aspects.
The $50 million project included two six-story buildings containing over 300 apartments and approximately 23,000 square feet of retail space.
That Little Bit Extra:
Real estate development company Carter was also in charge of the successful Banks project in Cincinnati, a $600 million development plan.

17. Mission Bay

San Francisco, California

Board of Supervisors, with both public and private partners:
"We will keep creating jobs, boosting economic development and building critical infrastructure in our City. Our continued progress on developing affordable housing, revitalizing blighted neighborhoods and generating the resources for urban infill development must continue."
~San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee
The Mission Bay neighborhood is an urban redevelopment project that is uniquely San Franciscan in nature. The roughly-300 acres in the project were originally a rail yard for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Since the project was created in 1998, the area has rapidly become an upper-end neighborhood and the national hub for biotechnology.
Among the goals at full buildout are 6000 condominiums – of which 1700, or 28%, of them are designated as affordable. This will include a new public school, fire and police stations, the first new branch of the San Francisco Public Library in 40 years, 50 acres of open public space, a hotel, half a million square feet of retail space, and over 6 million square feet of commercial and biotechnology space.
That Little Bit Extra:
The Mission Bay neighborhood is San Francisco's largest project since the Golden Gate Bridge.

16. Brooklyn Developments

Jacksonville, Florida

Downtown Investment Authority, along with several private investments and development companies:
"The 220 Riverside Project will breathe life into the Brooklyn community, bringing needed housing, economic opportunities, and public amenities to this community. Hallmark Partners and 220 Riverside are part of a group of pioneers working toward the redevelopment of Brooklyn. In conjunction with community leaders and area businesses, this group is leading the way for a better quality of life for downtown residents and visitors and inspiring future growth."
~ Jacksonville City Councilman Warren Jones
Once upon a time, the Brooklyn neighborhood was one of the most densely populated areas in the city, but in recent years it has become a stereotypical example of urban abandonment. Three projects are changing that – 220 Riverside, Union Plaza, and Riverside Place. The result will be a mixed-use redevelopment featuring residential units, retail stores, restaurants, and an urban public park.
Upon completion, these projects will provide the Brooklyn neighborhood with over 600 multi-family residential units, 80,000 square feet of commercial space for retail and restaurant establishments. It will incude a community park to serve as a central gathering place for residents.
That Little Bit Extra:
Union Plaza will be roughly the size of a football field, able to accommodate more than one thousand people, and host special events and programs approximately 250 days a year.

15. Velocity

Indianapolis, Indiana

City of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. (IDI), and Lilly Endowment, Inc.:
"Downtown was struggling. There was a sense of desperation. But all these entities banded together and came up with a plan. The leadership to keep that plan and that motivation alive for more than three decades is the most unusual part of the Indianapolis story, I think. We needed downtown housing to support the amenities, we needed visitors and tourism to support facilities, and we need a shopping in Circles Centre to tie it all together."
~ Brad Hurt, President of Urban Initiatives Consulting
Since 1990, almost $10 billion has been invested in downtown Indianapolis, and another $3 billion of new investments should be completed by 2017. Velocity was cocreated by several organizations to create a specific, five-year strategic action plan for the continued success of the revitalization initiatives.
There are 64 projects that are under or scheduled for construction by 2017. Almost half of those projects are residential with an estimated budget of $417 million. In 2013 and 2014, nearly 2000 new residential units should be finished with another 1000 units expected to arrive between 2016 – 2017. In late 2014, the Indianapolis Fire Department will be relocated as a new $43 million mixed-use housing/retail project will break ground, projected to open in 2016.
That Little Bit Extra:
In the five-year period between 2009 and 2014, the number of downtown multifamily residences increased by 89%.

14. Lamar Union

Austin, Texas

Greystar Real Estate Partners:
"It is our hope that Lamar Union will be cited as an example of quality urban mixed-use design, and a model for future development as Austin continues to grow."
~Eric Van Hyfte, Senior Associate for BOKA Powell
On July 31, 2014, BOKA Powell, a nationally recognized architectural company, completed its master plan and design for Lamar Union, using the 50-year-old Lamar Plaza retail center.
The project will take up a total of 9 acres and will preserve the existing six theaters of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema while adding almost 16,000 square feet for three new theaters. The company also designed three residential buildings that will offer 442 apartment units, seven restaurants, a total of 86,000 square feet of retail space, seven restaurants, and a parking garage that has a capacity of over 1300 cars.
That Little Bit Extra:
In an interesting twist, the streetscape will be curbless, designed more for pedestrians rather than cars.

13. Diridon Station Area Plan

San Jose, California

City of San Jose
In June of 2014, after an arduous five-year process, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved the Diridon Station Area Plan, located on the western edge of downtown San Jose. The goal is to commit to more intelligent planning around the management of transportation in the area. Although the station is already a regional transit hub, it is set to be transformed shortly, because of new transit investments, such as high-speed rail and BART.
The DSAP will include approximately 5 million square feet of office space, 2600 residential units, 900 hotel rooms and over 400,000 square feet of retail space. 15% of the residential units must adhere to the state's affordability requirements. In addition, there will be major improvements to the local bicycle and pedestrian paths.
That Little Bit Extra:
Because the plan makes predictions for the next 30 years, it is extremely flexible. For example, there are contingencies in case the city succeeds in luring the MLB team Oakland A's to San Jose.

12. Downtown Dallas 360

Dallas, Texas

City of Dallas:
"Downtown is a very different place than before. We have a good foundation and made a lot of progress in bringing the residential population, additional retail, the new bridge and new parks to downtown. All of the strategic elements are important and how we look at Dallas going forward."
~Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert
In 2011, the Dallas City Council adopted the downtown Dallas 360 Plan, a joint public/private initiative that lays out a clear outline of how to bring more places to live and shop to downtown Dallas. The goal was to connect neighborhoods, promote a stronger economy, and create a vibrant street scene.
The Downtown Dallas 360 Plan combined efforts for 15 specific areas. It focuses on seven "priority actions", such as the expansion of downtown transit/mobility options, adopting specific standards for urban design, and focusing on residential and retail opportunities within the individual districts. A strong positive of this approach is the Plan's respect for diversity while at the same time, coordinating a plethora of smaller projects so that they work well within the frame of the larger comprehensive Plan.
Since the adoption of the plan, there have been a number of large projects designed to update and renew the Downtown area. Included among the more prominent projects are: the Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel, a $500 million convention center/hotel that was completed in 2011, which has over 1000 rooms and over 110,000 square feet of meeting space. The plan also includes a Museum Tower, a $200 million luxury condominium building opened in January 2013 and the Perot Museum of nature and science, a $185 million center for education and exploration designed to stimulate children's interest in science, engineering, and research. The three new downtown parks cost an estimated $135 million.
That Little Bit Extra:
Because of its central location, Dallas is within 48 hours of railway travel for 98% of the US population.

11. Grow South Initiative

Dallas, Texas

City of Dallas:
"Southern Dallas is not a charity case, ladies and gentlemen, it's an investment opportunity. It's an opportunity for capital to come, businesses to grow, and citizens to have a great life."
~Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings
In 2011, shortly after his election, Mayor Mike Rawlings unveiled a plan to help rejuvenate and renew South Dallas between 2012–2015, and thus eliminate one of the larger blight areas in Dallas. His proposal has led to $1 billion in projects within the 169 square miles of South Dallas.
One of the first priorities of the Initiative was to target vacant or dilapidated homes that had become havens for drug users and homeless squatters. Over 250 demolitions were scheduled within the very first year. In their place, there will be affordable residential units built, along with commercial and office space. One such project was the $30 million Lancaster Urban Village, a 200 unit apartment complex that also included shops and offices.
That Little Bit Extra:
According to Mayor Rawlings, the targeted areas make up 60% of the Dallas Metro's land mass and comprise 15% of the city's overall tax base.

10. Civic San Diego

San Diego, California

City of San Diego:
"We're trying to create something long-term, help economic development, create jobs, deal with brownfields, and, of course, affordable housing."
~San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins
After the State of California passed the "Dissolution Act" of 2011, calling for the dissolution of all redevelopment agencies statewide and the redirection of the property tax money that had been used for funding, the City of San Diego closed its Redevelopment Agency in accordance with state law. Realizing that the many public projects required centralized oversight, the city created Civic San Diego, which is owned by the city as a nonprofit to be the entrepreneurial and developmental partner for specifically-targeted urban neighborhoods. The stated mission of Civic San Diego is to improve "economic and social well-being in a better-built environment" for those neighborhoods.
Civic San Diego has taken up the responsibility of a number of projects designed to curb the city's urban blight and stimulate the local economy as befitting a world-class city. Some of the projects include: Horton Plaza – The history of the Plaza stretches back more than a century ago, as the local center for many of San Diego's most important celebrations, festivities, and civic meetings. In recent years, however, the storefronts were abandoned, the iconic fountain was imprisoned behind a chain-link fence, and the entire area became a shoddy example of urban deterioration. As part of the renewal, the old Robinsons–May Building has been torn down, creating more public space and providing for a better view of the historic Balboa Theater, itself recently renovated. The Horton Plaza Park and its fountain will also be refurbished. In a deal worth $35 million, the city will retain ownership, but may not be responsible for maintenance. Construction is expected to reach completion in summer of 2015. The Navy Broadway Complex – On May 28, 2014, a federal judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Navy and its preferred developer, clearing the way for a $1.3 billion, 3 million square foot redevelopment project that was originally conceived in the 1980s. This larger project serves as the anchor for a smaller project, the $230 million North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, which will eventually give the general public of San Diego over 28 acres of waterfront plazas and parks lands on and near the Bay.
That Little Bit Extra:
This year, San Diego announced its plans to become the first American city to install cybernetically-controlled street lighting, by using a tested "intelligent" light system to control several thousand LED streetlights.

9. SA2020

San Antonio, Texas

City of San Antonio Center City Development and Operations Department:
"This is about helping San Antonio become a city over the next decade that's more attractive to young and single people. Young people are free agents looking to live in a city for the experiences it can give them, for the people they can meet, for the things they can do."
~Graham Weston, Founder and Chairman of Rackspace Hosting
SA2020 was created in 2012 as a nonprofit organization, giving both the responsibility and the accountability of improving San Antonio to the level of a world-class city by the year 2020 to the citizens of San Antonio.
To accomplish this lofty goal, 11 key areas, or "Causes", were identified – Arts and Culture, Civic Engagement, Community Safety, Downtown Development, Economic Competitiveness, Education, Environmental Sustainability, Family Well-Being, Health and Fitness, Neighborhoods, and Transportation. This gives the program a framework from within which specific, measurable goals where each cause can be set.
So far, the Center City Development Office has created nearly 2500 housing units and incentive packages among 11 housing projects with a total investment of approximately $350 million, and approximately $35 million in incentives. There are currently 14 projects in development in San Antonio, representing nearly 2000 housing units suitable for every income level. One of the most dramatic will be the Peanut Factory Lofts, a mixed-use development project that includes 98 units and 500 square feet of retail space. This $10 million project is expected to be completed in fall 2014.
That Little Bit Extra:
In the last complete decade, 2000 – 2010, San Antonio was the fastest-growing city in America.

8. Discovery Green

Houston, Texas

The City of Houston, the Houston First Corporation, and Discovery Green Conservancy:
"When people come here to visit, their vision and image of Houston is now changed because of this park."
~Houston City Council member Sue Lovell
The site that would eventually become Discovery Green was originally a high-end residential neighborhood back in the late 19th century, but by the end of the 20th century, it is become nothing more than two large parking lots.
It cost the city of Houston approximately $57 million to acquire the 12 acres of land and another $125 million to build and landscape the project. The park opened to the public in 2008.
Discovery Green has transform downtown Euston into a place to play, as well as work. Original attendance projections were ambitiously hopeful at 500,000 visitors a year, but Discovery Green was able to meet that goal in its first six months, and now draws more than 1.2 million visitors to over 600 annual free events.
Economically, the park has spurred downtown development to the tune of $625 million with another $1 billion in future projects such as offices, hotels, and residential units.
That Little Bit Extra:
When a contest was held to name the park, over 6,200 entries were received.

7. South Works/Chicago Lakeside Project

Chicago, Illinois

City of Chicago, US Steel Corporation, and McCaffery Interests of Chicago:
"South Works is very unique for us. No. 1 is the duration. It's very long term. No. 2 is it's a true partnership with the city of Chicago to help transform an area of a city."
~George A. Manos, President of US Steel Real Estate
The original facility of the eventual South Works began in 1857 and at its peak, employed approximately 20,000 people. In the 1970's, the steel market took a downturn and the plant closed for good in 1992. Since then, the site has stood mostly vacant.
The development will expand over the next three decades and will have a total estimated cost of $4 billion. The project will bring in almost 14,000 housing units and 20 million square feet of retail space across the 600 acres of the former steel plant. There are also plans for a marina and 125 acres of parks.
That Little Bit Extra:
Dating back to its time as a steel mill, part of the land at South Works was reclaimed from Lake Michigan with molten slag.

6. The Metropolis Project

Downtown Los Angeles, California

Greenland USA:
"There's been a real push for residential like we had downtown in the 20's, 30's, and 40's, rejuvenating something that was so critical to the whole city."
~John Vallance, City Centre Development
It was a Happy Valentine's Day 2014, indeed, for the Downtown Los Angeles and their long-delayed Metropolis Project. After false starts and delays that have plagued the $1 billion project since the mid-1980's, Chinese developer Greenland USA held a ceremonial groundbreaking event of this year, after closing escrow on the $150 million purchase two weeks earlier.
Shortly, work will begin in earnest on the first phase of the 6.3-acre project. Metropolis will include a pair of high-rise towers – Hotel Indigo, a trendy 350-room, 19-story boutique hotel, and a residential hotel containing 38 stories. In the second stage of the project, two other 50 to 60 story towers are planned. The hotel is slated to open February 14, 2016 – exactly 2 years from the date of the ceremonial groundbreaking. The city of Los Angeles is expected to receive a minimum of $117 million in taxes from the project over the next 25 years.
That Little Bit Extra:
Greenland USA is a subsidiary of the Shanghai-based Greenland Group, which has significant real estate developments across the globe and is the largest diversified company in China.

5. L.A. Live

Downtown Los Angeles, California

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG):
"(LA Mayor Richard Riordan) wanted to see the area around the Convention Center cleaned up, and to have it deliver on its economic promise, which was to attract out-of-town guests to come to large, citywide conventions. To use an arena as a catalyst for doing that was a pretty bold move."
~Ted Tanner, Vice President in Charge of Real Estate Development, AEG
Replacing the urban blight that once was Downtown Los Angeles, L.A. Live is a 5.6 million square-foot entertainment complex that offers over a thousand hotel rooms in a unique 54-story two-hotel hybrid tower(JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton), over two hundred private condominiums (Residences at the Ritz-Carlton), mid-to-high-scale eateries, nightclubs, concert venues, and movie theaters. The movie complex cost $100 million, has 14 screens and will seat almost 4000 patrons. In July 2014, another hybrid hotel tower opened.
The area adjoins the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the entire complex is part of the ongoing "Downtown Los Angeles Renaissance", which was projected to reach completion in 2015. Counting all private projects, the final impact is projected to create over 70,000 full-time jobs created or sustained within Los Angeles County, over $2 billion in annual wages and salaries, and nearly $8 billion annually in direct and indirect business revenue and rent.
That Little Bit Extra:
L.A. Live is where the finals of American Idol are filmed.

4. Riverside Center

New York City, New York

Extell Development Company:
"Riverside Center is a terrific project with many benefits to the neighborhood and the city. This approval is a result of many people working together to find solutions."
~Gary Barnett, President of Extell Development Company
This development, on what was mainly-unproductive property space, has its roots in the early wheelings and dealings of Donald Trump, who first optioned the former freight yard back in 1974. After numerous delays through the 1980's and 1990's, construction on Riverside South began at the end of the 20th century, and Trump and his partners sold the unused portion in 2005. Riverside Center completes the overall development.
When the project is complete, the result will be a total transformation. What was once merely an area filled with desolate parking lots and unremarkable storage facilities will become towering residential skyscrapers and numerous ground level businesses and amenities. The plan calls for a 250-room hotel, 2500 of both upper-end and affordable residential units, over a quarter of a million square feet of commercial space, a movie theater, a school, and an almost three-acre public park. Additionally, the project will generate 900 construction jobs and almost 1500 permanent jobs upon its completion.
That Little Bit Extra:
The architect in charge of the project, Christian de Portzamparc, is a recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

3. Essex Crossing

Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York

Taconic, L & M Development Partners, BFC Partners, and the Prusik Group:
"It's a big enough site that we can create a community that has all the aspects of what one wants in a neighborhood: a mix of housing, retail, entertainment, food, job training and office space that will serve both low income people who live there and newcomers to the area."
~Ron Moelis, chairman of L & M Development Partners
In September of 2013, the City of New York selected several companies to develop nine sites owned by the city on the lower East side of Manhattan. These six sites, spread out over 6 acres, are better known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, and had been vacant since the late 1960's. The awarding of this contract represents a significant renewal project for Manhattan. Construction is slated to begin in 2015, with an expected completion date of 2021.
The $1.1 billion goal is to transform almost 2 million square feet of mostly unused space into a mixed-use development of 1000 multi-family rentals, commercial and office space, community areas, retail shopping establishments, restaurants, high-end residential condominiums, park space, and a branch of the Andy Warhol Museum. Over half of the rental spaces will be affordable to lower to middle-class families.

2. The Atlantic Yards

"Prospect Heights", Brooklyn, New York City, New York

Forrest City Ratner and the Greenland Group:
"Brooklyn has fast become an international brand; and as an international company we look forward to creating there a project that will speak to the world about the importance of affordable housing and world-class design."
~Zhang Yuliang, Chairman and President of Greenland Group
This residential and commercial development project is intended to be mixed-use, constructing a total of 16 high-rise buildings. The entire project is supposed to take up 22 acres, more than a third of that located over Long Island train yard. The centerpiece of the project is the Barclays Center, a multipurpose indoor arena that opened in September of 2012 and is the current home of the Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association and the future home of the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League.
The total cost of the project is expected to be $4.9 billion, and under a community benefits agreement, there are a number of legally binding positives – 50% of the units must be "affordable housing", any contractors hired during construction must include 35% minority and 10% women workers, 10% of the rental units must be set aside for senior housing, and a healthcare center is included in the project.
That Little Bit Extra:
The Barclays Center is the highest-grossing venue in the country for concerts and family shows, according to Billboard magazine.

1. Metro Tech Center

Brooklyn, New York City, New York

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership:
"I think 2014 is going to be a very big year for Downtown Brooklyn. If you look at every sector of the market, it's booming… I think what we're seeing now is a whole new generation of companies that are choosing to locate in Brooklyn, not because they have to, but because they want to be here. They want to be associated with the community that's here. They want to be associated with the great neighborhoods that have taken root."
~Tucker Reed, President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership
In the 1970's, the presidents of the Brooklyn Borough and Polytechnic University, Howard Golden and George Bugliarello, envisioned a neighborhood that could be a hub for research and development, along the same lines as "Silicon Valley" in California. In their vision, this neighborhood would be the building block that could revitalize downtown Brooklyn.
The Metro Tech Center Complex has five skyscrapers and nearly 6 million square feet of office space, including the headquarters of the New York City Fire Department and the largest courthouse ever built in the state of New York.
Since 2006, there has been over $10.5 billion in private investments, over 26 million square feet of development, nearly 18,000 residential units and over 2,000 hotel rooms that have been either completed or planned.
Metro Tech Commons hosts many community and cultural events, including holiday celebrations, concerts, and health fairs.
That Little Bit Extra:
Metro Tech Center is the largest urban university/industry science and technology park in the country.
In the end, Americans are in favor of urban renewal/redevelopment/revitalization. According to the Urban Land Institute's recent survey, over 60% of respondents answered that they would prefer a smaller home with a shorter commute to a larger home with a longer commute. This shows the need for more viable housing options in a given city's urban center, rather than simply adding more development in the suburbs. The same survey says that more than half of respondents want access to public transportation, desire to live close to shopping, and have a preference to live in mixed income housing. More and more Americans are coming to the realization that downtown redevelopment is an attractive choice for entertainment, recreation, housing, and shopping.

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