Downtown sees housing boom
Since opening the doors of the Purr-fect Cut Barber Shop on Liberty Street, Owner Walter Roy Little has dreamt of turning the building’s spacious second floor into housing units.
Now, more than two decades later, the Ansonville native is finally ready to make his vision a reality. He has hired IL Long Construction and Architect David Gall to renovate the historic building and create four rental units on the upper floor. The units will range in size from just over 600-square-feet to more than 800. Little has yet to set a rental rate, but says the units, which will feature large skylights and some of the original doors and paneling, will be an affordable option for people seeking the perks of a downtown lifestyle.
“It’s going to be just affordable apartments,” commented Little, who came to Winston-Salem to attend barber school in 1961 and has been here ever since. “There’s nothing so special about it.”
The units will be known as Ella’s Lofts, in honor of Little’s older sister, who is ill.“I thought to name it after her would be a tribute to her,” he said.
Little, who hopes to have the lofts ready for tenants by the end of summer, is joining the ranks of a growing number of developers who are adding their own flair to the downtown residential landscape. Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership President Jason Thiel said there are a number of projects in various stages of completion that will increase the availability of for rent properties in the downtown district. Among those are phase two of the popular Winston Factory Lofts on Main Street, Richmond, Va.-based Clachan Properties’ latest offering to the burgeoning local market. The 86 unit facility, which is adjacent to the phase one property, is expected to open its doors soon, Thiel said. Hilltop House apartments on South Cherry are currently in phase two of their project, which offers one and two bedroom floor plans starting at $550 and $815 per month, respectively. When complete, the 106-unit project will include a renovated 1960’s building and newly constructed four story facility orientated towards a courtyard area and pool. Thiel says tenants are flocking to the new facilities almost as quickly as developers can get them ready for occupation.
“The thing that is the most telling is that the existing rental units are being leased up,” he said. “…All of the current ones that are already built have very strong tenant levels. All of them I would say have single digit vacancies.”
Federal and state tax breaks for renovations of historic properties that have generated up-front equity for developers, coupled with the demand for the units, has bred fertile ground for developers to cultivate in the for-rent market, Thiel said.
“More residential units create more demand, so what we’re seeing is that there’s room for quite a significant
amount more growth in the downtown residential market,” he stated. “What I think we will start to see is the housing market becoming more broad in the types of products that are being offered.”
Other projects in various stages of conception include the Coe Plaza/Mass General project directly across from the Millennium Center, the historic Pepper Building, which developers have proposed converting to 50 units, the construction of a 220-unit facility west of the BB&T Ballpark, the 150-unit Chatham Mills project on Northwest Boulevard. Developers of the County Courthouse were recently awarded local historic designation, which comes with a bevy of tax breaks, to make way for 50 housing units. A 243-unit renovation of the Plant 64 building in the Research Park area is also being considered.
Goler CDC was among the first developers to successfully invest in downtown housing, and demand for their properties is still high, with waiting lists for both Goler Manor and The Gallery lofts, said Executive Director Michael Suggs. The CDC has also constructed and sold six townhome units on Chestnut Street. The CDC hopes to reenter the market with a new venture in the coming months. Suggs, the former DWSP chair, said now is a prime time to invest.
“There’s more of a demand for housing as more and more businesses are moving downtown, and the (Piedmont Triad) Research Park is really starting to get some momentum,” he noted. “Walkability has really become a big selling point, and where we’re located, you can walk to most downtown areas. We’re right in the middle of a lot of the activity.”
Affordability will be a key component in Goler’s next project, Suggs said.
“We want downtown to be affordable for everyone that would like to live downtown,” he commented, noting that downtown housing is a good choice for those who rely on city bus services because of its proximity to the Clark Campbell Transportation Center.
Thiel said expanding the downtown housing market has many benefits, from increasing the tax base to attracting more and additional amenities to the area.
“People living downtown provides more demand for services we all could enjoy,” he stated. “…There’s a lot of positives. I think the improvements downtown have a positive reciprocal benefit for the entire city.”