The more Building Engines grows, the more mixed-use properties roll onto our platform.

This is taking many forms, from medium-sized office buildings in the midst of lifestyle shopping centers to massive complexes well over a million square feet. The trend is well past infancy, but the term “mixed-use development” has stuck—and this bothers me. I can’t get past the acronym: MUD.

One developer told me they call their projects “integrated-use developments” in the attempt to differentiate. This doesn’t exactly solve the acronym issue. There’s also some buzz around “transit-oriented developments.” TOD might be more fun to say, but these are really a subset of the larger category.

About a year and a half ago, I put some thought into alternative names for mixed-use properties. Not much has changed, so we’re re-posting the article here on Building Beat to try to re-spark the conversation. I hope you enjoy it!

And if you have any bright ideas, by all means share them by tweeting me @PhilariousRex or @BuildingEngines!

Rebranding the Mixed-use Development

When comedian Jerry Seinfeld came to Atlanta a few years ago, someone excitedly told him about a new development called Atlantic Station, then under construction near the theatre. He simply used it as material.

“Let me get this straight,” he said to the audience. “An area where you can live above the places you shop, then walk down the street to where you work? Just wait until the folks back in New York hear about this!”

Calling mixed-use development a “hot new trend” may be laughable. Still, it is undeniably popular in urban and suburban areas. One project in my own neighborhood was recently approved, and another one just across the street is rumored. Places like sports arenas and transit hubs often attract such developments, which tout their livability and walkability.

Too late for a rebrand?

The researcher in me is fascinated. How can notoriously specialized property managers and leasing agents operate these properties cohesively? What about serving all the different customers, from residents to workers to visiting shoppers? These are questions I’d love to investigate.

But the marketer in me cringes at the term “mixed-use development,” which seems to have become standard. Didn’t somebody realize the acronym is MUD? Surely that’s not the best connotation for a chic, vibrant location meant to serve as a single place to live, work and play!

If mixed-use is going to become a significant part of institutional-grade commercial real estate, it deserves an institutional-grade name. The ship may have sailed, but in hopes that it is never too late to right a lexicographical wrong, I would like to submit three ideas for pulling mixed-use out of the MUD.

Proposal I: Commercial, Office, Residential and Entertainment (CORE) Center

This descriptive option covers the bases of mixed-use with a better sounding name. It connotes to owners, operators and customers that the development is at the core of their existence—everything necessary is nearby.

The potential snag is that term “core” already has deep-rooted meaning in commercial real estate, especially in the investment community. To them, a fully leased trophy office building or a single-tenanted distribution center near the airport would be “core” investments. Mixed-use properties are an entirely different animal. Still, it might be worth a try.

Proposal II: Life, Commerce and Leisure (LCL, pronounced “local”) Community

Part of the appeal of mixed-use is that it is inherently local. This option intimates that. It also captures not just the components of the property, but the activities that take place there. After all, the real value of real estate comes in how people actually use the property.

Brokers all try to be local specialists. Perhaps one day we will see brokers who have “LCL Specialist” printed on their business cards. One can always dream.

Proposal III: Walkable, Integrated Real Estate Development (WIRED)

One of the hoped-for benefits of mixed-use is reducing (or, at any rate, avoiding) traffic congestion. Walkability can be a big sell, especially for younger adult residents who are used to a campus environment. And of course, the whole point of the concept is the integration of work, home, lifestyle and entertainment. WIRED reflects these, and it also connotes a sense of value-adding vibrancy.

Even though a lot of mixed-use developments offer free Wi-Fi, maybe their real future is WIRED.
This may all be an exercise in futility, but it least it’s fun to think about. After all, if you knew nothing else, would you rather work in a CORE Center or in…MUD? Does it sound more fun to hang out in a LCL Community or in…MUD? Would you prefer living in a WIRED area or in…MUD?

I should think the answer is obvious.