There are many types of Downtown “users”. Some of the largest categories are Downtown workers, Downtown visitors, and Downtown residents. Over the next several Explorer blogs, we’ll dive deeper into these categories and discuss how Downtown Huntsville can revitalize the city center through these Downtown user categories.
To start with, let’s explore Downtown residents. The advantage of a strong Downtown residential population is that people typically shop for essentials and spend the largest amount of time near their home. While Downtown worker populations are great for the lunch trade and some categories of shopping, individuals will often buy their groceries, fill their prescriptions, pick up supplies and the like close to their home if that option is available.
A real-world example of this is the Downtown Publix at Twickenham Square. Downtown Huntsville is one of the smaller sized Downtowns in the country with an urban Publix. The Huntsville Hospital population is great for the restaurants at Twickenham Square, but people don’t typically buy their groceries during their lunch break (for obvious reasons like having to leave perishables in the car).
Publix’s decision to locate in the city center was primarily predicated on the large number of residents in the immediate grocery trade area. For people who live in Downtown neighborhoods like Blossomwood, Old Town, Five Points and others, the Downtown Publix is simply the closest Publix to their home.
Why drive several miles down Whitesburg Drive when you are just minutes for the Downtown Publix?
Downtown Huntsville is even more fortunate in another way when it comes to Downtown residents. Many Downtowns across the country are seeing a huge wave of urban lofts both as new construction and in renovated buildings. These lofts appeal to people who are looking for proximity to walkable restaurants, shopping, and recreation. In addition to large numbers of young professionals, these lofts are also attracting a growing population of empty nesters who may no longer need or want the upkeep of a large home. Downtown condos and apartments offer convenient and low maintenance alternatives in the center of the urban experience.
Downtown Huntsville has experienced this type wave in the form of Belk Hudson Lofts, The Artisan, and The Avenue. What’s really significant is that each of these projects are at or near full occupancy. These days, it’s difficult to find an available loft in Downtown Huntsville which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it shows strong demand for urban loft living but somewhat of a curse because individuals who want to move into Downtown are struggling to find available options.
That’s why the new lofts at City Centre and Constellation are critical to meeting this demand. It’s imperative that these lofts get built as soon as possible to help the market demand sync up with market supply. The hope is that both of these projects will begin construction by the first quarter of 2019.
All of this strong demand is hardly a surprise when you consider the Downtown Residential Demand Study we recently procured which shows that, even with the City Centre and Constellation lofts coming on-line, there is still unmet demand for hundreds of additional loft units in Downtown. Notably, this doesn’t even include the unmet demand for fee-simple (or “for purchase”) condos in the city center. This demand is rapidly growing as empty nesters seek to move into Downtown but want to purchase rather than rent a loft. Just like rental lofts, there is almost no availability for fee simple condos in Downtown. Another critical need that we are actively working with developers to meet.
Beyond urban lofts, Downtown Huntsville is very fortunate to have a wide variety of detached housing types. These range from historic bungalows to newly constructed homes to classic estate homes (and just about every type in between). In fact, several of the highest income census tracts in all of North Alabama are located in or adjacent to Downtown Huntsville. This means that the immediate Downtown trade area possesses significant purchasing power—a fact that was certainly at play when Publix decided to build their Downtown store.
While most Downtowns have a large loft population, much fewer have a vibrant detached home population. The few that do (such as Charleston and Savannah) typically tilt toward the higher end of the house cost spectrum. Those that don’t, often one time did but have seen those historic urban neighborhoods suffer out-migration to the suburbs.
Huntsville’s ability to keep its Downtown area neighborhoods vibrant and in high demand results from a wide variety of factors including the fact that the zoned public schools in Downtown score well overall (for instance, much of Downtown is zoned for Blossomwood Elementary which has been awarded Blue Ribbon status by the Department of Education). Add in convenient access to health care, outdoor recreation and even non-Downtown employment centers like Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park, and its easy to see why so many people want to live in Downtown Huntsville.
By keeping strong demand and strong supply of all different housing types, Downtown Huntsville is able to recruit and retain a strong retail inventory of stores because of the old and very true adage that “retail follows rooftops”.