Louisville made Forbes’ list of cities with emerging downtowns, and USA Today readers named it among the best American riverfronts. Yet those redevelopment projects were a long time in coming. Meanwhile, neighboring cities have been forging a parallel path to wooing both their own residents and visitors to cleaner, safer, more livable downtowns.
Here’s a glimpse at what our neighbor cities have been up to:
“Nashville is the hottest Southern city now for young people. It’s all about transportation, connectivity, bike lanes …” says John Gilderbloom, a professor at the University of Louisville and director of its Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods.
It’s on a lot of Top 10 lists, including the Milken Institute’s America’s Best Performing Cities, .Mic’s“15 Cities for Creative 20-Somethings (that aren’t New York or Los Angeles)” – Louisville made that list, too – and MSN Real Estate’s “10 Most Popular Cities for Millennials.
A big factor in the city’s popularity is its strong economy – it wasn’t hit as hard in the economic downturn as many others, according to Craig Owensby, public information officer in the city’s planning office.
“Nashville isn’t a smokestack economy,” he explained. “It’s an entertainment, education and healthcare town.”
Another big factor was the 2010 switch in downtown zoning to form-based code, which regulates how buildings look and fit in with others more than merely a traditional land-use approach. It places a premium on being pedestrian-friendly.
“You used to go down to the entertainment district in the middle of the afternoon, and there’d be no one around. Now there’s people there at all hours, with shops and restaurants,” he said.
Developers can’t build residential units fast enough, even with $720 million invested in residential development since 2000.
Rents keep rising with occupancy rates at 98 percent for the past three years. Though an additional 1,606 units are expected to come on the market by 2017, that won’t be enough to keep up with demand, according to a report from Nashville Downtown Partnership.
The city is pressing for an express bus system that would go through downtown, but that project faces opposition and the incumbent mayor has passed it on to his successor.
Indianapolis ranks among the cities that have gained more people in the less than four years since the 2010 Census than for the entire previous decade.
More than 3,100 apartment units have been added in downtown Indianapolis in the past five years. That represents an 87 percent increase and a $400 million investment. About 3,600 new units are slated to be added by the end of 2017.
An 8-mile urban bike and pedestrian path called the Indianapolis Cultural Trail opened in 2013 linking downtown neighborhoods.
Indianapolis ranked sixth among 12 peer cities in a 2014 report on economic indicators from the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research and the Northern Kentucky University Center for Economic Analysis and Development. That report, which looked at indicators such as net migration, cost of living, venture capital and educated workforce, ranked Cincinnati 9th and Louisville in last place. Nashville was not on the list.
Young adults ages 19 to 35 are flocking to downtown Cincinnati, according to real estate firm CBRE.
It reports that the population in Cincinnati’s central business district (CBD), Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton neighborhoods has grown by 150 percent in the past 15 years, while median household incomes in the CBD have increased 204 percent. The number of residents with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is up 123 percent in the past decade.
Downtown Cincinnati Inc. reports $491 million in completed projects in the past year, $566 million in projects under construction — including 618 residential units — and $382 million in proposed projects. With a reported 8,777 residential units, its inventory far outpaces that of Louisville, Nashville or Indianapolis.
It’s won praise for The Banks, an 18-acre entertainment district anchored by stadiums of Cincinnati’s two major sports teams, The Reds and the Bengals. The completed Phase 1 includes 300 luxury apartments that are fully leased plus 97,000 square feet of retail. The ongoing annual economic impact of Phase 1 has been calculated at $91 million in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
Work has begun on Phase 2, which will add nearly 300 more apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space. And GE announced this summer plans to locate its global operations center at The Banks in an office building for up to 2,000 workers.
Meanwhile, in Over-the-Rhine, a 19th-century neighborhood just north of downtown, 103 historic buildings are being restored, adding 466 new and rehabilitated residential units to the market.
The indoor Findlay Market provides a nearby food source for the area and a $133 million streetcar project, projected to be completed in 2016, will connect Over-The-Rhine, the central business district and The Banks in a 3.6-mile loop. A downtown bike-sharing service also launched in September.
Back to Louisville
The bright spot in the aforementioned report on economic indicators ranked Louisville No. 2 behind Columbus in cost of living. While Insider Louisville has detailed some of the difficulties of developing residential properties downtown, including too few luxury units to meet demand, downtown living can pay off for renters.
Louisville is among the cities in which downtown rents are growing more slowly — about 3 percent or less — than in the suburbs, according to market research firm Axiometrics. Indeed, in October, the average rent in Louisville’s central business district was $866, compared with $884 in the city overall, according to rentjungle.com.
And projects such as RiverPark Place will be among the those filling that demand for luxury condo properties.
If you’d like to look out at those river views from the full-size, two-bedroom unit model, join Insider Louisville for Thursdays at RiverPark Place, at Poe Companies’ offices, 1250 River Rd., where speakers active in the project will be on hand at events on Nov. 13 and 20.