by Dan Rafter
Millennials want to live in the middle of cities. This has become common knowledge. It’s why developers are rushing to downtowns across the Midwest to build new apartment towers boasting party decks, onsite fitness centers and rooftop pools.
But it’s not just young people who are moving to cities. Brokers across the Midwest say that consumers of all ages are flocking to urban centers. They want to live where they can walk to public transportation, grocery stores, shops and restaurants. They want to park their cars and forget about them for weeks at a time.
The Midwest is fortunate in that it has plenty of downtowns that are thriving today. Downtown Chicago, the biggest of them all, is booming, of course. But people both young and old are also renting in downtown Cleveland, Omaha, Louisville, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Kansas City. There’s a resurgence going on now in downtown Detroit, and much of it is fueled by young renters moving into the city’s apartment stock.
Which Midwest downtowns are sizzling today? Here’s a look at four booming downtown areas and what makes them so special.
Bourbonism in Louisville
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer coined the term “Bourbonism” for his city. To his credit, this somewhat awkward moniker is sticking.
Fischer is referring to the craze for the bourbon for which this Kentucky city is known. Bourbon tours are popular today, and they are bringing the tourists to Louisville. And that has led to a boom in the city’s hotel market.
And more tourists? David Hardy, managing director for CBRE’s Louisville office, says that this has led to a steady rejuvenation in downtown Louisville during the last five to 10 years. Formerly shabby downtown neighborhoods have been spruced up with streetscape projects and the arrival of new businesses and restaurants.
Once this trend began, people – both young and old – started moving into downtown Louisville. That trend has not stopped, as new rental housing stock continues to hit the city’s downtown districts, Hardy said.
“We are seeing more housing in downtown,” Hardy said. “First, we started to see the housing inventory that was sitting around since the recession get absorbed. Now additional projects are coming online. That is a trend that is happening across the country. People want to live in a more urban environment. With the enhancements we have seen in the downtown, we have a real shot of creating a nice neighborhood environment. There is a convergence right now of several things coming together to spark an energy in downtown Louisville.”
Hardy points to the mini-hotel boom hitting downtown today. The biggest project is the new Omni hotel planned for the heart of downtown. This hotel is expected to open in the spring of 2018, and will bring 600 new hotel rooms and 225 luxury apartments in one 30-story tower. Retail is planned for the first floor of the project.
Hardy refers to the Omni as a “mega project” for Louisville, one that will transform the city’s skyline.
But there are also a handful of smaller, boutique hotels planned for the downtown area. Another Aloft hotel will open here sometime in the next three months.
The oddly named KFC Yum! Center – the arena that opened in 2010 and is home to the University of Louisville basketball teams – has helped rejuvenate downtown, too. Hardy says that restaurants and shops have sprung up near the center. The arena brought a new energy to downtown.
It’s helping to keep University of Louisville graduates in the city after the leave college.
“The activity in downtown, and the fact that it is such a great place to live, has helped stop some of the brain drain that was going on in downtown Louisville,” Hardy said. “Our kids were graduating from the university and heading somewhere else. Now we are keeping more of them here.”
Eclectic neighborhoods providing a boost to Columbus
Joel Pizzuti has long done business in Columbus. He’s president of Pizzuti, the commercial real estate company based in the city. Today he’s seeing plenty of activity in the city’s downtown core, with new restaurants, apartment buildings and shops opening.
What’s behind this? Pizzuti points to a concerted effort between the private and public sectors.
“We find ourselves at an interesting moment in time,” Pizzuti said. “The private sector and the public sector – the local, municipal and county government groups, the private sector and Ohio State University – are all focused on creating a better urban experience in Columbus. We have a series of really wonderful neighborhoods starting with German Village on the south end of High Street all the way to Ohio State University. We have major anchors at both ends and major neighborhoods between.”
Developers are now adding new apartment units to the center of the city. Pizzuti said that the units that have been added are being rented, so supply is far from outpacing demand.
Pizzuti, though, does worry about one thing: He hopes that developers provide apartments for all income levels.
“Columbus, like a lot of cities, is producing plenty of mid- to high-end urban housing,” Pizzuti said. “It is important for us to make sure we keep some balance, that we’re not just providing for-rent and for-sale housing at the highest end. We need to make sure we have different points of entry for different folks at all different demographics.”
It wasn’t long ago that downtown Cleveland would empty out after 5 p.m. That is now changing. The still relatively new Cleveland Convention Center and Global Center for Health Innovation is often cited as a kickstarter to the city’s current downtown boom. Those facilities did start a round of construction that is still bringing new residents to downtown Cleveland.
Then there’s the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, also in downtown, which continues to bring visitors to the heart of the city. A new residential tower is being planned for the city’s nucleus project, a downtown building that could rise 54 stories in the air, which would make it the fourth-tallest building in Cleveland.
So, yes, there is a lot going on here.
Gary Cooper, a senior vice president with the Cleveland office of Colliers International, said that living in downtown Cleveland has suddenly become trendy.
“Downtown is the place to be,” he said. “There was a time when people here would move to the suburbs. People still move to the suburbs, of course, but many people are choosing instead to move downtown. They want to be where the activity is.”
How big of an impact can a baseball stadium have on a city’s downtown? In Omaha, TD Ameritrade Park has had a major one.
The park is home to the annual College World Series and also hosts Creighton University baseball games throughout the season. On game days, visitors flock to downtown Omaha.
The city’s CenturyLink Center helps, too. This combination of convention center and arena is home to college basketball and hockey games throughout the year. It also hosts plenty of concerts and special events. Like the baseball stadium, it brings people to the heart of the city, which is good for the area’s restaurants and shops.
Then there’s the former Burlington train station. KETV Channel 7 is now transforming the empty station into a television studio. This is another big move for the city. The building is 117 years old, and had been mostly ignored for years.