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Guest view: Growing demand for live-work-play communities in Central Pa.

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Mike Kushner is the president of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.
Mike Kushner is the president of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group. - (Photo / )

If you've been a resident of Central Pennsylvania for more than a few years, you've likely seen various live-work-play communities — maybe you even live in one.

What we're talking about is mixed-use commercial and residential real estate where people have the opportunity to live, work and play all in a relatively close distance to one another. A great example is the Walden community in Silver Spring Township, but there are many others that we will examine in this article.

To help us explore this growing trend, we turned to Chris LeBarton, who is a senior market analyst with CoStar Group. Chris covers commercial real estate data in Western Maryland, including the Baltimore metro area, up through Central Pennsylvania for CoStar's Market Analytics platform.

LeBarton joined Mike Kushner of Omni Realty Group for a Q&A series where we specifically look at the growing demand for LWP communities in Central Pennsylvania — and what this means for CRE professionals. Here is how Chris answered our most pressing questions.

Omni: When did the LWP trend begin and how has it grown?

Chris LeBarton: The earliest usage of LWP spaces I can find was in 2005. The trend really started to grow in popularity leading up to the market crash, but there’s no correlation between the two that I can see. The term "live-work-play" was very likely used prior to that, but I'm guessing the branding of mixed-use development really took off as concepts of "walkable urbanism" and "Transit Oriented Development" exploded across the country.

According to the Urban Land Institute's Mixed-Use Development Handbook, which was published in 2003, mixed-use development: provides three or more significant revenue-producing uses (such as retail/entertainment, office, residential, hotel, and/or civic/cultural/recreation); fosters integration, density, and compatibility of land uses, and; creates a walkable community with uninterrupted pedestrian connections.

Omni: Describe a LWP community in Central PA.

Chris LeBarton: First, let's clarify what a LWP community really is, and what it is not. Some economic development entities and marketing types play pretty fast and loose with the term. An area can be a really nice place to live, work and play in, but if there's over a mile or so between one element of the triad and the other two legs of the stool aren't in the same building/development, it's not technically a LWP dynamic. Now of course, the likelihood that most people who live in one of these communities also works in the same office/industrial park nearby is fairly low. But being able to do all three and be largely reliant on public transportation or your own two feet is really the spirit of the LWP concept.

Another key element to understand is that LWP is not at all relegated to a city environment. In fact, part of these projects' collective appeal is that they can recreate a city environment without being in the hustle and bustle of a CBD. Specifically in Central Pennsylvania, there are a number of LWP developments.

Here are just a few:

• Lime Spring Square (Lancaster/Hempfield Township): A multi-phase, mixed-use campus being developed by Oaktree Development Group, the end result will include over 100,000 square feet of retail, several hundred high-end apartments, and components of office, medical and industrial space. Penn State Health has a 76,000-square-foot medical office building there, while PDQ Industries is expanding operations into an 80,000-square-foot building.

North Cornwall Commons (Lebanon/North Cornwall Township): Another phased project that has been delayed off and on since being proposed in 2004, North Cornwall Commons is finally seeing movement at what would be the largest mixed-use development in Lebanon County history. A retail strip center with at least one confirmed tenant (a local coffee business) is underway at 148-acre site that includes plans for roughly 165 townhomes, office space and a hotel.

• The 1500 Condominium (Harrisburg): An example of how you don't have to have everything in one place, 1500 has 43 units (mostly rentals) that sit over top of two restaurants and is within walking distance to the Broad Street Market and several small-to-medium sized employers.

• Wyomissing Square (Reading/Wyomissing Borough): A quintessential brownfield redevelopment, Wyomissing Square now consists of 250 four-star apartments, a Courtyard by Marriott, small-scale retail, restaurants, and a 60,000-square-foot medical office building.

Omni: Who is the target demographic for this type of community?

Chris LeBarton: As with anything that deals with where people live, shop/eat or work, I think the answer is all of the above. We hear all too often about millennials, or boomers, or downsizers, or divorcees. Honestly, the more conversations I have with leasing agents and brokers the more I'm convinced the rule is diversity and the exception is homogeneity. Granted, most of these LWP sites cater to the more upscale or educated among society, but that doesn't mean there can't be families with two working blue collar parents who make a decent living and who want to save money on a car/parking and live close to work.

Omni: What advice could help commercial real estate professionals capitalize on the LWP trend?

Chris LeBarton: I don't give investment advice, but here are a couple thoughts. First, find a way to make it authentic. Be it the retail mix, or a unique concept to the green space, or simply having the town center not look boiler plate, be conscientious of that buzz word "place making." If you're going to basically spend the majority of your waking life in a small area, it can't be boring or cookie cutter.

Next, think ahead. What will you need to provide three to five years from now? Who would have thought that cities would be crawling with scooters? Or even just electric vehicles. People looking to walk or be publicly transported or drive as little or cheaply as possible will likely demand options and flexibility. Things to consider are multiple charging stations, bike share platforms, car-share parking lots, et cetera.

Finally, identify fairly gentrified but not-yet-there locations that are retail/grocery deserts. LWP in the middle of a depressed community won't work in many places (there are exceptions, of course). But cool/changing areas that are the next "it place" often still need the food and fun to complete the shift.

Omni: Looking to the future, how do you predict LWP communities to evolve in Central Pa.?

Chris LeBarton: I think you can expect to see more of these types of projects turn up around dying malls or outlet centers that have to repurpose big blocks of space. Another interesting new trend that I could see taking off is the rise of co-living and co-working spaces in the same building.

The LWP trend stands to have a significant impact on Central Pennsylvania’s commercial real estate market. Because LWP communities rejuvenate the local community, drive business and create employment opportunities, Central Pennsylvania should be encouraged that so many of these communities are popping up across the region. Additionally this type of real estate appeals to a wide variety of demographics, making it a valuable investment opportunity for commercial real estate professionals. Looking to the future, LWP communities could be among the most powerful tools to breathe new life into struggling areas, and spur a burst of new economic activity that is greatly needed.

Mike Kushner is the owner of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.

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