Urban Renewal: Return to Urban Living Creates Opportunities and Challenges for Property Managers and Owners

By McCrea, Bridget | Journal of Property Management, September-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Urban Renewal: Return to Urban Living Creates Opportunities and Challenges for Property Managers and Owners


McCrea, Bridget, Journal of Property Management


Think of Atlanta, and phrases like "traffic congestion" and "urban sprawl" come to mind. During the busiest parts of the day, the city's surface streets are lined bumper-to-bumper with commuters waiting either to enter the city to start the workday, or exit to their homes on the outskirts of the booming metropolitan area.

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"Our city is rated the third-longest average commute in the country," said John Reagan, partner with Atlanta-based Urban Realty Partners, "and has an increasingly challenging traffic situation."

But rather than run away from the congestion and metropolitan hubbub of the typical American city, individuals and families are embracing it--opting not only to work there, but live and play there, too.

Motivated by convenience, employment opportunities and cultural and entertainment offerings, everyone from single professionals and young families to empty nesters is converging on cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis, Tampa, Philadelphia and Los Angeles in search of a piece of new urbanism.

The trend encompasses much of the country, crosses nearly all commercial real estate sectors and is particularly relevant in areas where urban sprawl took hold in the 1990s, forcing governments to rethink measures for preventing the spread. The movement comes after decades of urban flight left America's cities dormant between 5 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. the following Monday.

Those residents who have already made the move are benefiting from short commute times, a sense of community, nearby dining, entertainment and cultural venues and the convenience of living where they work and play. Helping boost those benefits is a community of property owners and managers who are either building new or adapting existing buildings to meet the wants and needs of new urban dwellers.

"People want to be close to what urban areas have to offer, such as quality of life, nearby restaurants and coffee houses and cultural institutions," said Steven Gartner, president at Philadephia-based Metro Commercial Real Estate, which manages and leases over 5.5 million square feet of retail space throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and is currently involved in a retail-residential development in downtown Philadelphia. "This movement definitely has a lot of momentum right now, and is getting a lot of attention."

In search of simplicity

Look no farther than New York City for the perfect example of urban renewal, said Tim Jones, partner at Robert Martin Company LLC, in Elmsford, N.Y. With over 20 million square feet of commercial property under acquisition or development, his firm has developed a large amount of land in New York and in doing so, has witnessed several major trends taking hold in the region's real estate market. Among them, said Jones, is a declining crime rate, resulting in a greater feeling of security and safety among residents and workers alike.

"You really can't overemphasize the decline in violent crime in most of our cities, including New York," Jones said. "As a result, we're seeing more development and price appreciation in boroughs like Brooklyn, the Bronx and northern Manhattan, which had traditionally been viewed as being unsafe."

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The nation's aging population, characterized by more empty nesters less concerned with having backyards and more focused on low maintenance and convenience is another trend driving new urbanism, Jones said. He said the new urbanites are empty nesters in their mid-40s looking for a flurry of activity or interested in dinner and a show being just a stone's throw from their front stoops.

"They like to partake in nearby activities, even if it just means going for a walk," Jones said.

Jim Baeck, vice president at Development Design Group Inc. in Baltimore, broadens the new urbanite criteria to include retirees and young couples or singles in search of a more convenient lifestyle. …

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