ULI Los Angeles News

Disruption Gets Creative: ‘Art of Development’ Explored Shipping-Container Retail and Innovative Co-Living

By Michael Asarch

In a fresh event space at the iconic Helms Bakery in Culver City, ULI YLG Los Angeles hosted a sold-out presentation on “what’s next” in residential and retail concepts. Over 100 guests heard from: Chris Bledsoe, CEO and Co-Founder of Ollie an all-inclusive co-living company; Martin Howard, Co-Founder of SteelCraft, the retail developer pushing boundaries of construction; and Studio One Eleven Senior Principal Michael Bohn, AIA, designer of SteelCraft’s successful shipping-container food halls that build social cohesion and a compelling sense of place. Organizing and conducting the panel was ULI Los Angeles Communications Committee Co-Chair Sandra Kulli, of Kulli Marketing.

Real estate today is becoming more flexible, productive, and reactive. That’s what SteelCraft had in mind for the Bixby Knolls neighborhood in Long Beach. What started as a crazy idea for a single shipping container for a local creamery turned into an innovative outdoor food hall. SteelCraft scoured the craft-food scene and curated independent restaurateurs – Waffle Love from Salt Lake City, Desano Pizza, Smog City Brewing, Tajima Ramen, Steelhead Coffee and other hand-selected concepts.

SteelCraft is the landlord, operator and curator of experiences. The Long Beach success led to new locations in the re-emerging downtowns of Bellflower and Garden Grove. Both of these places are also designed by Studio One Eleven. Parking has not been an issue as most customers are locals who walk or ride bikes to the site. SteelCraft seeks locations in established neighborhoods, close to major freeway arteries, or urban areas with great density. The developer works with local economic-development partners and holds community meetings to formulate the best mix for each specific city, and tailor the space to the local population.  Social media has emerged as a huge catalyst for success, with marketing cross-pollinating among tenants and the community.

As architect Bohn has noted, “Construction remains one of the least-disrupted industries with the most potential impact. Creating retail with re-used containers not only allows more cost-effective and sustainable development – especially for independent retailers – it also helps build social cohesion and a compelling sense of place to help strengthen community.”

This year Studio One Eleven will also open Leisuretown with developer LAB Holding in Center City Anaheim, a partnership with craft brewer Modern Times Beer. The 32,000-square-foot complex includes a coffee roaster and vegan Mexican food restaurant surrounded by gardens and a swimming pool. Two levels of shipping containers will join a renovated Craftsman-style residence, adjacent barrel-vault commercial building and former auto repair shop.

The Ollie co-living concept is related disruption, but of residential – not retail – development. Under-utilized New York City multifamily properties was the catalyst for Chris Bledsoe creating Ollie, a co-living company pushing the boundaries of micro units and curated experiences. By sub-dividing traditional multi-family units, they unearthed untapped arbitrage with smaller, more affordable units. Next they offered all-inclusive living – packaging expenses such as furniture, linens, TVs, cable, and even social experiences into a bundle. Ollie is disrupting with design, not just with technology. Density gives affordability to renters, and creative returns for Ollie and its investors. Streamlining the all-inclusive offerings for larger buildings enables Ollie to differentiate themselves and offer a unique living experience. Ollie focuses on their four C’s- cost savings, convenience, comfort and community. Fostering connections led to Ollie Social, cultivating experiences and events for tenants and the community.

ULI Los Angeles Communications Committee member Michael Asarch is Vice President at Kidder Matthews

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