Finding the ‘Mix That Works’: Designing Mixed-Use Communities Where People Want To Gather

Rethinking how we socialize helps architects and developers re-imagine mixed-use for a post-pandemic world, according to The Beck Group CEO Fred Perpall.

With the triple COVID whammy of WFH, restricted entertainment options, and e-commerce, mixed-use developers are rethinking how we socialize with enhanced safety measures and outdoor spaces.

Fred Perpall says that designing unique spaces that handle a variety of uses—like Klyde Warren Park and Sundance Square —will succeed going forward because gathering together matters.

The CEO of The Beck Group is among the experts in our commercial real estate feature, “21 On 2021.” He shares his outlook on what’s next in a Q&A.

Dallas Innovates Q+A (Images: Istockphoto)What’s the outlook in 2021 for mixed-use development in the Dallas-Fort Worth region? How does that compare to a national outlook?

We don’t have a clear read of the future of mixed-use development in DFW or across the nation. The effects of COVID-19 have put the market sector in limbo. Mixed-use was strong leading up to 2020. In North Texas, the big mixed-use developments were mainly office driven because many major tenants were corporate relocations.

Today, we have to consider the impact of working from home and how companies adapt. For example, will corporations permanently shift to a decentralized system where its employees work from home post-COVID? Trends like these are critical because offices must have a certain percentage leased before being built. As companies look for the right solution for them and their people, the impact on the office sector will be one to watch closely.

What opportunities and challenges do you see in mixed-use development in North Texas for 2021?

Mixed-use is interesting because it’s a catch-all sector; there’s always one market driving the development. What we have to ask ourselves now is, “What is the mix that works?”

“Mixed-use is interesting because it is a catch-all sector; there is always one market driving the development. What we have to ask ourselves now is, ‘What is the mix that works?’

As mentioned before, office space is a challenge because some aspects of the work-from-home movement will be permanent. Restaurants, bars, and indoor entertainment are at an impasse until a vaccine or cure for COVID is found. However, there is optimism that food and beverage will eventually recover because we’ve seen people flock back to them as soon as restrictions lift. The most significant opportunity in mixed-use is rethinking how we socialize by focusing on outdoor spaces and incorporating enhanced safety measures into design.

What changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have you seen in the mixed-use market, and which of them do you expect to last?

Developers are rethinking their spaces in real-time. Shopping has been moving from physical stores to online, and non-retail uses are beginning to occupy more and more space in shopping centers. This change was gradual, but COVID became the accelerator.

What new trends in mixed-use are you excited about?

The mix of uses revolves around creating unique, well-designed communities where people look forward to gathering. We know places with green space and areas for community gatherings thrive. New York wouldn’t be New York without Central Park. In the Metroplex, we have Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and Sundance Square in Fort Worth. The uses in these places may fluctuate depending on the market, but people want to spend time there because they are well-designed and can handle a range of uses.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. A version of this story first published in the Fall 2020 edition of the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

Sandra Engelland contributed to this report.

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