Mentorship Groups in Action
Mentorship Groups tour The Grove, in Garden Grove.
“When I first saw the site, I said, wow, I never would have looked at a property like this, but it was a real chance to reshape and restore.” – Brian Ulaszewski, executive director at nonprofit design firm City Fabrick
Urban Land Institute Orange County members were treated to a special tour, panel discussion and after party on site at La Placita Cinco in Santa Ana, CA last Wednesday. This was an excellent opportunity to see a Jack Kemp award winner first hand in this triple win redevelopment for residents, businesses and the city. This project is a great example of how developers can revitalize old strip shopping centers, especially ones anchored by aging gas stations or similar run down retail pads. It checks all the boxes. With an infusion of a $6 million grant from the City of Santa Ana, it provides much-needed affordable housing, it’s mixed-use, it includes public art and it revitalizes a core neighborhood in the city. Plus, the development cherry on top; it provides public space for community events like farmer’s markets and concerts and similar public gatherings.
ULI attendees heard insights from a variety of experts in a panel discussion, followed by tours and a reception with appetizers and drinks (provided by the local retailers located at La Placita Cinco). This panel featured Community Development Partners, City Fabrick, TCA Architects, Wells Fargo and the City of Santa Ana. The panelists included Kyle Paine, President, Community Development Partners; Brian Ulaszewski, LEED AP-Executive Director Principal, City Fabrick, Linda Nguyen, VP Community Relations Senior Consultant, Well Fargo NA, and Ali Pezeshkpour, Senior Planner, City of Santa Ana. The panel was moderated by myself, Tim Mustard, partner with TCA Architects. As a member of the ULI Affordable Workforce Housing Council (AWHC), I have the honor of advocating at the National Platform ULI provides to help bring more affordable housing to the marketplace. Recently, we had the privilege of receiving the Jack Kemp award at the Fall event in Chicago, recognizing this project as a valuable contribution to this community.
The 2.25-acre site, formerly called “Tiny Tim Plaza,” replaces the former gas station and portion of the parking lot, into a vibrant new affordable community with 3-4 stories of 51 apartments. It offers two-, three-, and four-bedroom units with ground floor community space shared by the residents and neighborhood community. La Placita Cinco thoughtfully incorporated a public park and open space between the two commercial buildings, allowing for a variety of outdoor public uses. Mercy House, who provides services for residents and neighbors, can use the ground floor community space as a resource for community nonprofit organizations.
The two commercial buildings and all their tenants remained and were integrated into a reimagined site plan. The commercial buildings are reinvigorated with the complete transformation of the building facades that includes new architecture, signage, and upgraded accessible pedestrian access. Renovations also addressed long deferred maintenance of the buildings including repairs to the roof and mechanical and electrical systems.
The overall site was turned into a pedestrian friendly experience by minimizing the parking lot and limiting vehicle parking spaces for commercial tenants, deliveries, refuse, and emergency services. The remaining surface parking has been redesigned to support active uses with wide, landscaped plazas along the retail facades. This has allowed businesses to extend their operations outdoors, to include outdoor dining, and to support pop-up programming such as farmers markets and special events. Between the two retail buildings, a mini park is programmed to accommodate a variety of uses, like fitness classes, farmers markets and concerts. The former service alley has been transformed into an urban farm, providing farm to table produce for several on-site businesses. La Placita Cinco remained open for its retail tenants throughout the duration of construction. The fact that we were able to keep the existing business open during construction, was one of the most challenging aspects of this project, but also, one of the most rewarding.
This project leverages the diverse commercial amenities already existing among the tenants including a restaurant, bakery, market, butcher, salon, and laundromat to tend to the community’s daily needs, effectively creating a neighborhood Main Street. These commercial services are augmented by new amenities like the park and plaza. Built into the project’s new DNA is a wellness program that includes a walking path, outdoor gym, fitness studio, garden and community space for social service provider Mercy House to operate from.
La Placita Cinco is intended to reflect the cultural diversity of the Artesia Pilar neighborhood and broader City of Santa Ana architecturally and artistically. The non-descript architecture from the seventies is subtly changed to relate to Mexican modern style familiar from exemplary designers Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legorreta. The public art installations provide an eclectic extension of the surrounding community with a series of curated murals created by local artists which uses local, but subtle details to incorporate the city’s history in the artwork.
The project leveraged traditional and innovative funding sources that are unique to rehabilitating a blighted commercial property with affordable housing. In its final form La Placita Cinco is supported through a 9 percent tax credit award, and cooperative lender and investor partners who worked diligently to find solutions that supported both the new construction of affordable residential units with the plaza renovations. Making everything possible was the support from the City of Santa Ana, who approved not only all the necessary entitlements, but also $6 million in subordinated funding to ensure the financial feasibility of the project.
La Placita Cinco is a successful example of integrating much-needed affordable housing into an existing residential neighborhood by leveraging under-utilized commercial properties. It’s estimated that there are about 70,000 strip shopping centers like this throughout the nation and we expect they’re going to undergo similar transformations eventually. Cities in Orange County like Santa Ana, Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Tustin, and Fullerton, have lots of these types of parcels. They are ripe for redevelopment, especially since we’re out of land and these are often derelict or defunct and in desperate need of new life. We were happy and honored to win the Jack Kemp award and help the ULI Orange County on an inspiring event!
Tim Mustard is a principal at TCA Architects. He is also on the ULI Affordable Workforce Housing Council. Founded in 1993, TCA Architects are nationally recognized leaders in high-density, mixed-use, multifamily housing, and signature hospitality environments. The firm’s collaborative approach and industry leading technological expertise have resulted in award-winning, sustainable projects that respect our communities and the environment. With studios located in Oakland, Los Angeles and Irvine, California, TCA is one of the nation’s fastest growing architectural firms. For more information on TCA, its design talent and current projects, visit http://www.tca-arch.com/
Christine Rombouts 949.631.1557 / email@example.com
Notable Quotes From The ULI Panel
Kyle Paine, co-founder and president of locally based Community Development Partners (CDP), the project’s lead developer, says that when considering sites for development, his company looks at the site’s specifics, including who lives in the neighborhood now and their needs, and then aligns housing and amenities to those needs. “This project made good sense with the lack of investment in the community; a streetcar coming through; and a large, low-income, Hispanic demographic that can’t afford market-rate housing.”
“Interestingly, this was a lever for the redevelopment,” notes local architect Brian Ulaszewski, executive director at nonprofit design firm City Fabrick, which was engaged by the project’s executive architect, locally based TCA Architects, to design the project. He suggests that revitalizing the retail component was both a sustainable and practical solution, as the shopping center already had a perfect mix of 14 neighborhood retail services that had evolved over time. He also said, “When I first saw the site, I said, wow, I never would have looked at a property like this, but it was a real chance to reshape and restore.”
The development team initially proposed rehabbing the retail component, environmental cleanup of the abandoned gas station on the corner, and adding studio and one-bedroom affordable-housing units. “But that wasn’t what the city needed,” says Ali Pezeshkpour, principal planner for the City of Santa Ana, who noted that city needs affordable, family housing. He explains that Santa Ana has a high population of low-income Hispanic families with three generations or multiple families living in the same household and notes that whenever a new affordable project opens, “the city gets 1,000 applicants for every 50 units available.”
Gaining community approval for the project required a creative parking solution. “We revisited the plan to create a podium structure with a parking garage on the ground level high enough to install car lifts,” Pezeshkpour says, noting that this doubled the parking to provide 91 parking stalls or 1.75 parking spaces per unit, and reduced construction costs.
“What would the grant dollars be best utilized for? We realized that the small businesses serve the entire neighborhood and they are part of the social fabric of Santa Ana. These retailers have a history here and we liked having something that we know works,” said Linda Nguyen, Vice President, Social Impact and Sustainability, Wells Fargo Bank.
La Placita Cinco Statistics