5 Keys to Success for Multi-Family Residential Development

Developer-architect duo realizes a shared vision for urban living in Mariemont

Sari Lehtinen, glaserworks Associate Architect, and Rick Greiwe, Principal at Greiwe Development, have established a strong track-record of successful condominium projects. Over the past decade, Rick and Sari have developed a close working relationship, founded on a shared commitment to New Urbanism and mutual appreciation for urban infill. The result is a winning combination of walkability, design, and history that is The Mariemont Lifestyle.

In this blog post, Sari and Rick share their keys to success for design and development of condominiums in The Village of Mariemont.

condos

Nolen Park Condominiums

Map:

Mariemont Condominiums

#1 – Plan the Work, Work the Plan

Realizing a shared vision for Mariemont

The Village of Mariemont was planned by landscape architect John Nolen during the early 1920s as a national model for developing new towns across the U.S. Commissioned by philanthropist Mary Emery, Nolen worked to transform farmland outside Cincinnati, Ohio into a community of mixed-income housing complete with commercial space, playgrounds, and a village green. Today, Mariemont remains one of America’s most livable towns and captures the spirit of what is now known as the New Urbanism movement.

urban plan Nolen’s 1921 Mariemont Plan[/caption]

Nolen’s plan provided a shared vision – a unifying framework for developers, designers and the community – for how the town should be built and the type of community it would become.

“The Mariemont plan had a lot of lovely features in it, truly a beautiful vision – some of which was realized, much of it left undone,” Sari describes,

“Over the years, some of the uncompleted parts were filled-in with pieces that didn’t fit so much in the plan. Rick Greiwe saw the opportunity to realize the vision for Mariemont, so we began working towards mending the urban fabric.”

Sari and Rick are currently on their fifth residential project in Mariemont, Hampstead Park Condominiums.

Their previous four projects (Jordan Park, Emery Park, Nolen Park and Livingood Park) all followed the Nolen plan to further bring Mary Emery’s vision to life.

“Sari understood what we were trying to accomplish with the whole Mariemont Town plan,” Rick explains, “all the requirements of trying to create a village environment that extended from the Town Square and architecture that would be timeless.”

#2 – Build Upon Existing Context

A community with ‘good bones’

“This is a community that already had some good bones and Rick saw the potential in that,” says Sari, “Our big opportunity was to fill in the pieces.”

This concept – bringing new multi-family residential to existing communities – is fundamental to Rick’s role as a developer:

“I have targeted communities that already had the makings of a great lifestyle a place that is engaging, because it had walkability, it had restaurants, shops; it had parks, recreational amenities,” Rick explains, “I have no interested in building lifestyle communities that are new. I would rather go to existing communities that already have those qualities and then build residential around it.”

historic housing Mariemont historic context[/caption]

And with existing assets comes an existing community – including residents, businesses, elected officials and other stakeholders. According to Rick, working together with the community is key: “It is important to work in partnership with the community,” he says.

Rick and Sari worked closely with the Village of Mariemont to create a new zoning type (akin to a form-based code) called Residence D zoning district. According to the Mariemont Zoning Code, Residence D allows for multi-family residential over four units and “Multi-service centers providing community-wide support services to persons who are elderly”.

“The new district laid out the rules for doing these types of structures,” Rick describes, “It couldn’t be any taller than the Mariemont Inn; it had to have urban setbacks that would extend to Village Square; it had to have parking underground; it had certain landscaping requirements that created public and private space.”

While these zoning requirements may seem restrictive to some, being engaged in the process made all the difference.

Rick adds, “We wrote the book ten years ago, and we’ve been following it ever since.”

#3 – Give the People What They Want

Responding to market demand for urban lifestyle

Rick has identified his target market as Baby Boomers, many of whom are becoming empty nesters. These buyers are looking for more than just a home,  but a lifestyle. Rick explains:

“I don’t care how beautiful something is, if you can’t sell – because it is too expensive or too big or too small – then it’s a problem. glaserworks’ expertise is really understanding the marketplace.”

“Rick’s projects meet a need,” adds Sari, “the real trick was figuring out that the need was there. It seems to be ongoing, and that’s great!”

Developers like Rick Greiwe keep a look-out for the best locations for new multi-residential products. Mariemont was an ideal location, according to Rick, because all the desired amenities are within walking distance. Location, however crucial, is not everything; he also needed modern floorplans and finishes to attract the target Baby Boomer demographic.

Modern Features and Amenities


Rick describes his guiding philosophy:

“I don’t pursue developments unless I would live there …”

“… It must have qualities for engaging life because people are not buying just a home anymore. Our target customer wants a lifestyle that is engaging and entertaining; to be free from all the stuff in their former lives and all the chores associated with single-family homes; to escape the isolation that comes with suburban living.”

#4 – Design Expertise

Creating buildings that ‘Belong’

There is a real challenge in projects like these: reconciling demands of the modern condo market with the nuanced character of a historic community. This requires an architect with serious talent and passion for design.
“Some architects bring an attitude that says: ‘It’s got to be about the beauty of my vision, it’s not about what’s happening inside’. In our case that didn’t happen,” says Rick, “ Sari was very skillful in designing floor plans and unit plans that responded to what people want (wide open spaces, big closets entry ways, higher ceilings) while ensuring the exterior architecture blends into its surroundings. That is a real skill that not many people in the architectural field understand.”
According to Rick, their challenge in Mariemont was to translate historic styles into modern materials and floor plans that are wonderful places to live. Sari describes the balancing act between buyer preferences and the historic context of the surrounding community:

“These are 3-story structures with contemporary interiors designed to accommodate the modern lifestyles of today’s condo buyers; they can easily become big and bulky in terms of design. There are several tricks we employ for helping the buildings ‘fit in’ to the urban context.”

design expertise

Design Expertise


Sari emphasizes the importance of scale in her urban residential work. She is intentional in making sure her designs are ‘human scale’, buildings that ‘fit in’ with the historical context of Mariemont:

“Each project is designed to supplement and complement its surroundings. It is not about standing out as some new thing; it is more about bringing existing pieces together and creating a lovely environment by reinforcing what is in place already.”

For Rick, the resulting product is a source of pride:

“Everybody that sees the work today says to us ‘It looks like these buildings have been around for 100 years,’” he says, “That is a real compliment, both to Sari as an architect and to me as a developer.”

#5 – Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Having the right players on your team

“Sari is not only an incredible architect – she is also a leader,” Rick asserts.

Successful collaboration requires a special kind of leadership. Multi-family residential projects are complex and involve cross-functional teams made up of technical experts from different fields.

“Sari knows how to run a meeting with people who are technical – Structural, Mechanical Engineers, Electrical – you name it, “says Rick, “she respects everybody’s trade and knows enough about everything to ask the right questions. She knows how to run a meeting not step on people’s toes and keep things on track so you can accomplish things as a team.”

Development Team Hampstead Park Development Team[/caption]

But collaboration doesn’t mean you’ll always agree. Knowing how to negotiate trade-offs and when to ‘stand your ground’ to ensure quality results – is more art than science. Rick describes:

“Putting a construction budget together is like making soup – You have all these numbers coming in and it would be easier to say ‘let’s get rid of these railings because they are too expensive; let’s get some prefab ones instead of the ones she designed,’ Sari is passionate about her work – rather than just roll over and play dead, she skillfully negotiates, and educates people on the importance of certain elements of the design.”

According to Sari, the vision is a shared aspiration that motivates and guides a design team – and collaboration is the path to getting there:

“Everything comes together – the Interiors, the technical aspects, the landscaping, the architecture, the urban planning, then there’s a social layer as well … all of it comes together around this shared vision: an environment where people can live happily together, with access to all the necessary goods, services and systems to support community well-being. I’m talking about the vision, the ultimate goal, and how you get there is through collaboration.”

Conclusion

Developer Rick Greiwe has a strong track-record of successful condominium projects. He attributes this success to a few key principles and practices – following a plan, leveraging community assets, responding to market trends, hiring the right architects and promoting collaboration.

Sari Lehtinen and the architects at glaserworks are specialists in multi-family residential projects. We’re here to provide insight and expertise throughout the design and development process, all the way to construction; to create buildings and places that delight and endure.

Let glaserworks help you achieve success for your next urban infill project. Contact Samantha Brockfield, Director of Marketing & Business Development at sbrockfield@glaserworks.com or (513)665-9555 x313.