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Transforming a traffic circle into a new public realm: The Rim Commons.

The Rim Commons – landscaped park space from a traffic circle.
Adding shade to ground floor restaurant retail created terraces.
The new landscaped park provides programming space.
The curvilinear bench creates a meetup spot and focal point.
The “before” – traffic roundabout.
The “after” – park amenity.

The Rim Commons is a favorite “before and after” placemaking case study for a few reasons: it drew on our decades of retail experience; we found a planning solution to a development problem; and it showcases the economic potential of good placemaking.

Background: The Rim is one of San Antonio’s largest mixed-use developments, located in the affluent Northwest area of town. A collection of power centers, upscale retail and entertainment, a multiplex cinema, and luxury apartments, it also includes a walking street of restaurants and entertainment spots. As the “before” of our project, an empty traffic circle was located midway, bordered by one-story retail on two sides and a large apartment complex with a retail ground floor on the third.

Developer | Hines Houston
Retail | 32,000 SF
Park | 17,000 SF
2022

The curvilinear bench creates a meetup spot and focal point.
The curvilinear bench creates a meetup spot and focal point.

The problem: To develop the problematic fourth side of the circle, owners Hines Development tapped us, as the architects of The Shops at La Cantera, for a placemaking solution to the empty 11,00 SF circle. The goal would be to get shoppers across the street to ground floor retail spaces below the apartment complex, which they owned – and which were empty.

The solution? Accessible, usable outdoor space connected to restaurant retail to create a destination within a destination. In a two-step strategy, we took in the traffic circle and created a landscaped peninsula. We followed with a prominent, continuous shade structure along the head of the new “commons,” adjoining the ground floor retail spaces of the apartment building. As reconfigured, the client could then court top restaurant tenants, offering prime spaces featuring outdoor dining terraces. With the addition of popular restaurants Southerleigh and North Italia, our solution was complete.

We further developed the character of this outdoor space as a central meetup spot, featuring a series of sculptural artisan-made benches inlaid with tile mosaic by acclaimed San Antonio artist Oscar Alvarado. By creating a usable, people-scaled park setting adjacent to restaurants, the Rim Commons has energized its shopping street by simply providing the kind of relaxed setting people seek out.

Placemaking as we define it is best practiced as a team; we join the development team and the leasing professionals to bring planning, architecture, and retail expertise to each unique challenge, resulting in sound strategies for transforming places.

Hines didn’t see this unexpected solution coming, but once they understood the leasing strategy, they embraced it wholeheartedly. It’s been far more successful than they’d ever dreamed.

Billy Lawrence, AIA

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