Down at street level: Active ground levels can add value and appeal to a development

Down at street level: Active ground levels can add value and appeal to a development
Down at street level: Active ground levels can add value and appeal to a development

We tend to pay a lot of attention to the penthouse level of projects.  They attract our interest because they can be dreamlike and expensive, but we tend to pay far less attention to the ground floor, the street levels of projects.

They can be problematic spaces, and there’s nothing more 'depression' than a ground floor shop or office space with a faded for lease or for sale signs languishing in the window.

However this space is often the public face of a building, it’s the street cred, and the visual appeal of a building can be both adversely and positively impact by what happens at this level.

Ground floor space that is not used as residential accommodation needs to be carefully considered, and there are various options and I suggest opportunities to use this space. There are however particular hurdles that have to be taken into account when the ground space fronts a major retail street or commercial zone. Or it’s an even more important when new ground floor space is intended to create a new retail or commercial zone, often this is a key planning requirement of the local council. Even if there are times when this space has limited commercial value.

Some Quick Options

Most buildings will have the main entry foyer at ground level, the area can also house a building manager, mailroom or other community spaces. But these spaces rarely occupy the entire ground floor, so the space is shared with retail and commercial space.

Other options include the creation of a breezeway under the building, connected to either an internal private open space, or to public space. The use of this type of open access way does help to create a more immediate connection to the local neighbourhood, in particular in very dense areas. I have also seen a number of large buildings where a big part of the ground floor is given over to a gym and indoor pool.

However as the density of developments increases there is a greater tendency for this area to be assigned for retail and local services. Many councils retain this idea as a key planning goal. The main task is to make sure this space adds to the appeal of the building and that retail opportunities are in tune with the needs of the local community and residents so that the space both engaging and financially viable for any tenant or owner operator.

Parking Remains A Hurdle

High-density residential development is now very common in Australian cities and because of the very limited supply of greenfield locations, developments are now commonly located in old industrial areas, or in areas around public transport hubs such as railway stations.

Retail facilities in these areas might be limited or located along old strip-shopping streets, while major shopping centres may be some distance away. Island site remote from the new generation of high-density housing, and it is partly for this reason that councils look to have retail space at ground floor level. There is also an ideal that this space be designed more for the pedestrians than for easy car access, but this creates a problem, because without easy parking it is hard to attract enough customers to support the retail space.

The simple idea that high-density residential development alone will support retail services rarely happens because big numbers of apartments are required, and even in high density locations like Sydney’s Victoria Park, retail has to be supported by ample and easy to access parking. It’s not a readily available or commercially viable proposition.

Part of the solution is to aim to silo retail developments in specialist hybrids so that they can attract customers willing to travel, or with a tenancy mix that has rusted on appeal to the nearby apartment dwellers. However again this is not an easy task, and every retail level can not be a trendy coffee shop, although that’s an impression you often get walking around some new project areas.

A nearby by major regional shopping centre is always a plus for a new residential project, but this monopoly of retail and to some extent services dies make it hard for one of retail locations or even small clusters to trade profitably. For this to happen you need density like you find in mega cities like New York, plus very easy access to mass transit.

Still many development controls in our capital cities mandate the provision of retail space down at the street, this does not always reflect the reality of todays shopping habits. In planning projects there needs to be a strong reality check of how this space will be occupied, clever thinking can make the space more useful and appealing and so eliminate the need to tired to-let or for-sale signs.

Another hurdle is the fact that most of the shops along streets will be sold or leased separate strata units. This makes it almost impossible to have a co-ordinated retail mix strategy and the shops may take many years to mature and then add to the appeal of the neighbourhood.

Each building and project needs to be considered so that token retail space is not seen as the only alternate, there may well be other options including clever landscaping solutions.

Nevertheless, high land costs will always put pressure on the use of this space but detailed planning can lead to better outcomes, because an active ground level, will add value and brand appeal to any apartment project.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

New Developments Peter Chittenden

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