In this world of cookie-cutter projects and look-alike communities, it's hard to claim the mantle of first. But each of the three mixed-use projects profiled here can make legitimate claims to being unique. Club Casa Mina is the first private-equity residence club—a fractional—to hit Santa Barbara, Calif. Nashville, Tenn., has a good supply of old warehouses, but the folks behind Mercury View Lofts are the first to convert an old building into a mixed-use loft project. And in Hyattsville, Md., a suburb of Washington, developers chose to build a 16-story student housing building as a way to jump-start a project that has been 50 years in the making.


In Santa Barbara, a former bus yard blossoms as a fractional property that's long on luxury touches and resort amenities.

Amazingly, even gorgeous, sun-soaked Santa Barbara, Calif., has blighted areas in need of a little rehabilitation. That's what developer Gene Campbell of Top Shelf Development discovered eight years ago when he stumbled upon the site of a former bus storage yard just blocks from the heart of downtown. Originally, he thought it would be a good spot for a high-end health club or a boutique hotel. Then he joined up with architect Barry Berkus, whose crusade for “fun zones” has made him something of a mixed-use guru over the years. “Here was this wonderful piece of property, right in the middle of town,” says Campbell. “I contacted Barry and said, ‘let's do the highest and best-use plan for this property.'”

That turned out to be a mixed-use project that combined seven residential units, offices, and a wine bar. Sounds like pretty tame stuff in the world of mixed-use. But here's the twist: The homes are all part of a partial ownership program or, as most of the world calls it, fractionals. It's an arrangement that's similar to time-shares. The difference is that time-shares are sold by the calendar (the buyer gets a specified number of days at a place, not a percentage of them); with a private-ownership program, people buy a portion of the property. At Club Casa Mina owners are able to use their home for a number of pre-set days but can go well beyond that, depending on availability (and can stay in other resort properties, too).

Luxury touches are pretty much standard in Santa Barbara, but the city's first private-equity residence club had to be superluxe, of course. That means that the five, three-bedroom townhouse villas and the pair of two-bedroom penthouses feature the best of the best: fabulous floor plans by a renowned architect; slate and travertine floors; balconies that open onto a central, cobblestone paseo; plasma TVs and state-of-the-art surround sound; wrought-iron details; and massive vigas spanning the ceilings.

ENTER HERE: Street-level commercial space shields the residents at Club Casa Mina, who enter the project through a deep pedestrian and vehicular passage at the building's midpoint.
ENTER HERE: Street-level commercial space shields the residents at Club Casa Mina, who enter the project through a deep pedestrian and vehicular passage at the building's midpoint.

“More and more people that we deal with are fitting in their vacations at different times,” says Berkus. “Nobody can spend a lot of time in their second home, but it makes sense to have one that is maintained for you, that you can drop into for a month at a time and then leave.”

Perfect for Santa Barbara.

Project: Club Casa Mina, Santa Barbara, Calif.; Project size: 25,850 square feet; Unit size: 1,800 to 2,800 square feet; Total units: 7; Price: $415,000 to $435,000 per equity share (8 owners per residence); Builder: Frosher Lewis, Santa Barbara; Developer: Top Shelf Development, Santa Barbara; Design architect/ Land planner: B3 Architects, a Berkus Design Studio, Santa Barbara; Architect of record: Tom Meaney Architects, Santa Barbara

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Santa Barbara, CA, Washington, DC.