Live-Work Units: Reasons to Include Them in Your Next Project

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Construction recently kicked-off on a multi-use development in Fishers, included live-work units - something largely considered a new concept in Indiana. The live-work units made sense in Fishers, but the city isn't unique in this way...

Mayors across this country are finding ways to redevelop their downtowns, create a sense of place in the community, and spur entrepreneurial growth from within. Creating a project that helps a city meet these needs can be a win-win, here is why:

Support entrepreneurs. New companies are responsible for most of the job growth in America. According to Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, companies less than one year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the past three decades and account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation. With these statistics, it isn’t hard to see why city leaders are looking for ways to foster an ecosystem to support entrepreneurialism as a powerful economic development tactic.

The proliferation of co-working spaces across the country is in direct response to the rise of entrepreneurship in our cities and towns, but municipalities should be thinking about what comes next for these job creators—keeping them in your community is a must. The live-work unit offers a flexible, economically viable option for hard-working entrepreneurs.

In the Fishers example, the units will have street-level, commercial fronts for office/studio space with residential quarters in the back. The perfect solution for a growing group of people who embody the “life is work; work is life” lifestyle.

Further the sense of place. A strong sense of place is vital to the health and prosperity of a downtown, especially in small cities and towns. We know that a sense of place in a community usually includes a pedestrian-friendly, connected location with a lively environment that encourages visitors to linger and support the local economy. Live-work units can help broaden the feeling of community in a downtown simply by being.

Business owners that live and work in these spaces usually include creative entrepreneurs and small startups with strong cultures. By infusing a downtown with a critical mass of such businesses, municipalities encourage a connection to the local community. Not only that, but these entrepreneurs don’t leave the area at the end of the day. They shop local, eat local and drink local—inherently helping spur the economy and foster the hip-factor of the district.

Flex-space for future consideration. Like many other cities and towns, Fishers’ downtown redevelopment is still a work in progress. The mixed-use development by Envoy, an Indianapolis-based development and construction management firm, expands the footprint of the new, budding downtown into an area with little foot traffic to date. It’s an exciting time for the city, but it also posed an interesting challenge for the developer concerned about the financial sustainability of the project.

The typical mixed-use redevelopment project includes first-floor retail with residential space on upper floors. As redevelopment of an area moves forward, sustaining the first floor businesses while build-out continues can be a challenge for the development and the businesses that take a chance on the location.

Live-work units can help minimize this risk. By offering the businesses a place to live and work under one roof, with one monthly rent payment, the opportunity becomes more viable for the business owner. In addition, there is the opportunity for these units to become commercial-only locations in the future, if the market dictates that use. Since the units are created with commercial entrances and storefronts, as redevelopment continues and the area becomes a more popular destination, these units can easily transform into larger commercial locations suitable for a manifold of uses.

Live-work units are nothing new. The concept was born many centuries ago in towns and villages, in which work, business and housing all took place on the same site. It worked then and it works now. Whether you’re working with a mayor to inspire economic growth in a community or a developer with the ability to propose a creative development project, consider the benefits of live-work units. Just like in Fishers, Indiana, it could be just win-win scenario that works.

Scott Baldwin is executive vice president of Envoy.

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