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Downtown Apartments Going Fast

The story below appeared in yesterday’s Charleston Daily Mail. Generation Charleston, the Alliance’s emerging leaders group, has been working to promote downtown housing for four years and is hosting an Urban Living event later this summer.

By Paul Fallon
Daily Mail Staff

Ryan White, a member of an organization dedicated to attracting young people to the city of Charleston, believes urban-minded professionals are itching to move into the downtown.

That’s if affordable housing can be found. And White, cochairman of Generation Charleston, believes that is something the downtown area lacks.

But he believes one development in the city is a step in the right direction. Bill Turner, co-owner of the Loewenstein Building on Capitol Street, bought the large, historic structure about two years ago with the intentions of creating loft apartments for young, urban professionals.

And the effort is beginning to pay off after the renovations were completed a few months ago. Turner has rented 22 of the 24 apartments in the five-story building that sits in the heart of the city’s Village District.

“Our occupants are people that want to live, work and play downtown,” Turner said.

White agreed, saying the types of people who are attracted to downtown are typically young, about 30, and childless. They’re the ones who want to walk to their favorite haunts around the city.

“These are the people that want the convenience of going to dinner, or going to work and not having to drive to get there,” White said.

Although he has no specific evidence to back up his assumption, White believes that more affordable housing in downtown will be available for those who want to take advantage of the convenience of urban life.

However, Turner, a developer of both commercial and residential property, does not think an abundance of housing in the city will soon become available. He pointed out that developers must be able to find buildings they can turn into apartments at a reasonable price to make them affordable to tenants.

“This is the biggest challenge that needs to be overcome,” he said.  

And if developers can vault themselves over that hurdle then the benefits would be great for the city, White said. Affordable downtown housing could encourage professionals who already live in the area to stay in Charleston, and it could also help to attract people from other communities to the city, he said.

Both of these factors would help to increase the population of both the city and county, he said.

White and Turner agree that keeping the housing affordable is the key to attracting tenants. And Turner believes he is doing that.

For example, a single bedroom loft in the Lowenstein Building is $777 per month, Turner said.

“And all the tenant pays is electric,” he said.

However, that does not include cable or Internet service, Turner said.

The two-bedroom units, of which there are eight in the building, run $856 a month. However, only the one-bedroom apartments are currently available, he said.

Turner believes this illustrates that the apartments are affordable because it did not take them long to be rented.

Turner has also made a significant investment into the city. From acquisition of the building to renovations, the project cost about $2 million, Turner said.

The building is old, having been built in 1900, and there are many challenges associated with renovating a historic structure, he said.

Because it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, rules must be observed when renovating the building. For example, renovations must adhere as closely as possible to the original architecture of the building.

“We had to follow the state culture and history rules, Charleston Urban Renewal Authority Rules and city council rules,” Turner said. (more…)

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Get a Taste of Downtown Living Thursday

One of Generation Charleston’s most popular events, the Loft Walk, returns Sept. 23 to shine a spotlight on downtown living.

The event will start at 400 Bibby St. The properties there are part of the tour, which also will include 816 Kanawha Blvd. and the Lowenstein Building at 225 Capitol St. Loft Walk runs from 5:30 7:30 p.m.

Trolleys will transport guests to the various locations, although participants also are welcome to walk, as well.

“We have plenty of data suggesting interest in downtown living, whether it is in condos, lofts or apartments,” said Charleston Area Alliance President and CEO Matt Ballard. “The next step is making downtown housing a realistic option for those who desire to live and build their careers in Charleston.”

Last year, the Alliance, Generation Charleston – the Alliance’s emerging leaders group – and the City of Charleston developed a survey that showed more than 90 percent of respondents are interested in downtown living. In 2008 and 2009, Loft Walk attracted more than 100 people.

The fourth annual Loft Walk will help guests get a “taste of downtown living,” said Clifton Clark, co-captain of Generation Charleston’s Economic Development Team.

“It’s a free tour of private residences,” Clark said. “We want guests to learn about the adaptive reuse of historic downtown buildings, discover the charm of loft living and embrace the opportunity to be a part of Charleston’s future.”

The free tour will include private residences, some fully developed and some still in the construction phase.

“Each year, we see the possibilities during Loft Walk,” Ballard said. “Now, property owners are making it happen. Downtown living options are expanding, and that means downtown businesses will be able to stay open longer. Events such as ArtWalk and FestivALL have demonstrated the increasing vibrancy of downtown, and more and more people are embracing the idea of living downtown.”

A reception at 400 Bibby St. will follow the tour.

Bibby Street is near the Charleston Town Center, off Washington Street. Parking is available around the mall and in the mall’s parking garage.

Those interested in attending can RSVP to DForinash@CharlestonAreaAlliance.org. Loft Walk is a rain or shine event.

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Loft Walk Returns Sept. 23