By Dan Rafter
The trend is happening in downtowns across the Midwest: Young people want to live in urban areas, so they’re choosing to rent in the hearts of such cities as Indianapolis, Louisville, Minneapolis and Columbus. Kelli Lawrence, partner with Indianapolis-based multi-family development and construction firm Cityscape Residential, recently spoke with Midwest Real Estate News about this growing trend and what’s behind it.
Midwest Real Estate News: What is bringing Millennials – or all renters, really – to the urban centers of such markets as Indianapolis, Louisville and Kentucky, three markets in which your company is active?
Kelli Lawrence: It’s similar to what is happening in the larger urban markets like Chicago and New York City. People want to live in the urban centers of places like Indianapolis and Louisville for the same reasons that they want to live in the downtowns of larger markets. That is where the energy is at. That’s where the nightlife is at. It’s where the new restaurants and bars open up. Regardless of the size of the market, people are drawn to that excitement. They want to live close to the activities and amenities that are important for their lifestyle.
MREN: I’ve heard from many commercial real estate pros that they are seeing a lot of investment in their downtowns. It almost doesn’t matter in what city these people work. They all say that money is being put into their downtowns, and that this is bringing new people to them.
Lawrence: I can say that this is true with us, too. All of the communities that we are working in have invested heavily in their downtowns. They’ve all added bicycle and pedestrian amenities to help people get around, so that they don’t have to depend on their cars. They are all working to make their downtowns walkable. They are also providing development incentives for projects like the ones we develop. The goal is to help bring new residents downtown.
MREN: What is behind this trend?
Lawrence: One of the important things is that all of these Midwest urban centers have strong histories behind them. They have an engaged group of longtime residents who are working to always improve them. They have the civic and business leaders that you need. The areas in which we work are all successful. They are all growing and thriving. They are attracting residents and businesses at a steady rate.
MREN: What are renters looking for in a downtown, urban apartment building?
Lawrence: We make sure that all of our projects feature top-of-the-line interior finishes. The finishes have to be condo quality. All of our urban buildings feature extensive bicycle parking and maintenance areas. Bicycling is important in the markets in which we work. Pet-care areas are important, too. Covered parking areas are important. We try to utilize our outdoor space in unique ways. We provide courtyards with semi-private spaces. And we also offer public gathering spaces in these courtyard areas. In some of our properties where there is a vibrant art scene in the neighborhood, we’ll invite local artists to be part of our clubhouse and amenity areas. And we do have a pool at all of our locations. That is something that people want.
MREN: We usually talk about Millennials heading to the urban areas. But it’s really not just younger people who are interested in renting in these areas today, is it?
Lawrence: No. This kind of lifestyle is appealing to all generations. There is an interest among all generations in spending less time in the car and enjoying more of life. There’s an interest in living close to the restaurants you like to eat at and the shops you like to shop at. All of our developments are close to urban parks. That appeals to people of all ages. Time is a valuable resource. Everyone’s time is so valuable. You don’t want to spend that time sitting in a car. You want to enjoy the lifestyle amenities that you work for.
MREN: What kind of changes is this trend toward urban living bringing to the commercial real estate industry?
Lawrence: I know that we are looking more intently for those urban in-fill opportunities. We are looking at sites that we might have once thought were on the fringes. They aren’t on the fringes anymore because there is such a demand for urban settings. That opens development opportunities in parts of the downtown areas that were not targeted for as much development in the past. Of course, this applies to all property types, not just to apartments. We are seeing retailers moving into downtown areas that they previously did not look at. They are developing properties in areas that once were not hubs of activity. The trend of urban living is changing the way we are looking at what properties are ready for development.