In the course of our extensive market and case studies for downtown residential development, The Danter Company has established a checklist of 23 items that help us judge whether a downtown market is ready for residential development. In previous articles, we examined employment factors (Part I), government and regulatory factors (Part II) and student housing factors (Part III). In this article, the last of the series, we examine the remaining factors, which we are classifying as relating to amenities and other issues.
The last set of downtown housing development factors are those we classify as related to attraction amenities, retention amenities and infrastructure. Based on our research surveying multifamily residents regarding why they chose their units and why they left their previous units, we have classified amenities as either attraction amenities or retention amenities. Attraction amenities are those which attract a renter/buyer to a particular community, whether they are used or not, and retention amenities are those which tend to keep a renter/buyer in place. For example, a renter/buyer household might be attracted to a residence by a swimming pool, dreaming of all the relaxing times by the pool in the summer, and may not end up using the pool that often. The same renter/buyer household might end up moving from the development when their lease is up because there isn’t enough closet space or because they are tired of using the coin laundry and want a unit with washer/dryer hookups.
Factor #14 – Downtown Events (Frequency and Attendance)
Downtown events are critical to downtown housing for three primary reasons. First and foremost, these eventscreate familiarity with the downtown. They bring suburbanites and tourists to your downtown and show off the downtown area at its best, and may get them thinking about how nice it would be to live downtown and be a part of all the activity. Second, they enhance the quality of life for the residents already downtown. Third, they can be critical in extending the vibrancy of downtown beyond the 8 am to 5 pm business hours into weekends and evenings.
Factor #15 – Cultural/Entertainment Destinations
This category includes museums, sports arenas, theaters, art galleries, nightclubs, etc. Like events, these facilities bring suburbanites and visitors to your downtown, often in large numbers and from long distances, and show off the advantages of living downtown near culture, activities, and nightlife. They also enhance the quality of life for downtown residents and extend the vibrancy of downtown into weekends and evenings.
Factor #16 – Destination Retail
Destination retail consists of farmer’s markets or specialty, one-of-a-kind retail that attracts patrons from the entire region, not just a neighborhood. Having a wide variety of destination retail is can enhance and add vibrancy to a downtown. In addition, retail environments such as a farmer’s market can help bring or keep suburbanites and visitors downtown on weekends and evenings.
Factor #17 – Downtown Transportation
It is critical that downtown transportation not only get people around the downtown, but also connect downtown with the rest of the city. Our surveys report that the ability to get around on a daily basis without a car is one of the primary attractions of living downtown. The extent to which this is possible depends on a variety of factors, including the proximity of retail, entertainment, and health care and other services to the downtown area, but the primary factor is the quality and frequency of public transportation serving the downtown area.
Factor #18 – Parking (Adequate, Convenient and Secure)
It is a common misconception that downtown residents don’t have cars. Even though decreasing their dependence on their cars is one common reason given by downtown residents for moving downtown, in many downtowns it is inconvenient to give up the car entirely. Public transportation may not be adequate, or retail services may not be convenient, or the resident may require a car for the job or commute. A recent Internet survey we conducted of residents of downtown Columbus, Ohio, indicated that one of the things they liked most about living downtown was the “reverse commute,” while one of the things they liked least about downtown living was the lack of adequate parking for them and their visitors. Even if the resident does not have a car, chances are that relatives and other visitors do have cars and will need somewhere to park them when they visit. Parking for downtown housing needs to be adequate, convenient and secure.
Factor #19 – Existing Retail
The more highly developed and diverse the retail options in the downtown area, the more attractive it is as a residential option. The more downtown residents have to leave downtown in order to get the things they need, the more likely they are to consider leaving downtown and moving closer to the things they need.
Factor #20 – Convenience Retail
Convenience retail gets its own category here, because a good base of convenience retail in a downtown area can mitigate somewhat a lack of other types of retail by lessening the number of trips a resident must make outside of the downtown area for basic needs of daily living.
Factor #21 – Downtown Promotional Programs
Downtown promotional programs can come from a variety of groups, such as convention and visitors agencies, Realtor® groups, government agencies, Chambers of Commerce, or even resident associations. The more groups that are invested in the vitality of downtown, the better the climate for downtown housing will be.
Factor #22 – Downtown Existing Residential
Households already living downtown are the most natural target market for new downtown housing. In addition, a field survey of existing downtown housing will identify gaps in the market based on price and concept.
Factor #23 – Existing Historic Districts, Neighborhoods, Buildings
Existing historic districts are important factors because they generate interest among potential residents and provide a potential inventory of buildings for adaptive reuse. However, historic districts also often come with architectural guidelines and review boards, which can significantly increase the cost of adaptive reuse projects. In addition, a downtown may consist of many neighborhoods, each with a different character, and it is critical to design projects that match a neighborhood. Occasionally, with a large enough tract of land, it is even possible to create a neighborhood.