A big trend in urban real estate is coming to small towns, to create a new opportunity to retain more young people.
Young real estate buyers have made an epic shift, away from big suburban homes, and toward smaller spaces in walkable neighborhoods. I read about this first in Grist: Millennials not looking for McMansions (unless they have to move back in with the parents). I asked Tulsa real estate agent Lori Cain about it, and she confirmed that Tulsa sees this trend, too.
Small towns have an abundance of unused downtown space. Look upstairs in any rural downtown, and the resources are there.
This past week, I tested this idea with my 17 year old nephew. He was enthralled with the idea of cool downtown apartments in our hometown.
Codes and zoning can be a big barrier to this. At the Revitalize Washington conference, I heard how a single apartment project required installing expensive sprinklers. That meant a new, larger service line under the street and sidewalk at the owner’s expense. That lead to upgrading the fire hydrant spacing, paid for by the new owners. The list went on, in dizzying ways.
Can anything be done? Possibly. Washington was beginning to explore changing state laws to allow alternative codes. Alternative codes for historic properties and reuse of existing downtowns also exist, and may be adaptable by your municipal government.
It’s a bit of a daunting challenge. But there is great entrepreneurial potential in creating the cool downtown housing younger residents want.
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Yes. Yes. Yes. I have always thought we were wasting great spaces above the retail stores downtown–a little mystique, a little “glamour,” just plain away from “home.” Additionally, most small towns lack, and are now scrambling to try to get, affordable housing. Rehab-ing downtown spaces should be much more economical. And they have all that character!
Becky McCray says
Thanks, Maesz. For a little more confirmation, look to this bit at Planetizen:
“People increasingly are moving back toward the center of cities and into apartments and condominium complexes. The trend is driven by rising transportation and energy costs; fewer people living in the average U.S. household; fewer people willing and able to afford a big, suburban house; and more focus on transportation planning, including mass transit system.”
That’s from a presentation to the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference.
Jennifer Brooks says
Absolutely!! There’s also the possibility of accessing funding to help with retro-fitting work, etc. for older spaces – but talk about a revitalization initiative if folks were encouraged to live in downtown areas! Make a use case for your community and get people talking about it …
Becky McCray says
Jennifer, there are some funding pools that can be tapped for this, but it definitely takes a partnership of the public and private.
Robbie Johnson says
I could not agree with you more about the potential of downtown living. My wife and I own an old theater in Waitsburg, a small town near Walla Walla. Phase 1 of our remodel was to make the apartment a great place to live. We lived there for 7 years and loved it.
Becky McCray says
Thanks for sharing your own experience, Robbie.
Great Ideas, the hard part is finding a developer in a rural town who wants to build or refurbish downtown apartments. We’ve been trying to get that for Kitanning PA with no luck yet.
Becky McCray says
It won’t ever be easy to get a commercial developer to “get it.” I think there is more promise in sharing and exposing the potential spaces, and in encouraging non-traditional development. Those commercial developers will come around, but they will wait for others to prove the concept first. You have to try other methods.
Caleb Mast says
Thanks for your articles! We are working on renovating an old factory building in Downtown Nappanee. We’re having a hard time getting businesses to fill all our space. It is growing but our town is pretty small for such a big project. http://www.coppescommons.com
Let me know if you have specific advice for us.
Small Biz Survival says
Caleb, congratulations on getting started with a big, big project. Nappanee is famous to all of us who have owned Hoosier cabinets! I’ll put your info out on our newsletter, and invite smart folks from all over to make their suggestions.