In cities across the nation, old warehouses, factories and other buildings are being turned into brand new luxury loft apartments, and for many urban areas, those apartments are a big part of trying to get people to move back to cities from the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:
In cities across the nation, old warehouses, factories and other buildings are being turned into brand new luxury loft apartments. And for many urban areas, those apartments are a big part of trying get people to move back to cities from the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has that story:
Abby Cook is taking a tour of the Union Square Condos.
“…finished the dining area, old basketball hoops and signs throughout the building, so…”
The condos are being built in what used to be a high school, and when they’re finished, the apartments will have a lot of the things that lofts are known for. They’ll have high ceilings, hardwood floors, big windows and exposed brick.
“It’s a great use of the building, it’s a neat idea and just the uniqueness, I think of it.”
Cook is excited about the idea of moving to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. She lives in the suburbs now.
“Location is key, I think. Being that I am a young person, and I go out a lot, being close to downtown, just being close and the convenience is huge, just huge.”
Developers all over are building these kinds of lofts in empty city centers. That’s because lofts are thought to attract a group that’s become kind of a holy grail to urban planners: young, educated, professionals like Abby Cook. They’re often willing to live in neighborhoods that other affluent people shun, and it seems, they love lofts. Julie Hale Smith is with Michigan’s housing development authority.
“Our main target goal was to increase population in our urban centers. When we looked around at other cities in the country that we were emulating, we noted that one of their linchpins of revitalization was the redevelopment of historic buildings or the kind of faux-lofting of new, or newer buildings to provide that kind of lifestyle, that kind of urbanist lifestyle for folks that chose to live in those kinds of dwellings.”
You hear the word “lifestyle” a lot when you talk about lofts. In fact, they’ve become almost synonymous with a certain lifestyle, and not just in the minds of developers and urban planners.
FLAHERTY: “When you think of loft apartments, what words do you think of?”
PERSON 1: “Urban living.”
PERSON 2: “Maybe urban contemporary types, younger…”
PERSON 3: “Young, urban, hip.”
PERSON 4: “Maybe en vogue for city living, kind of stylish…”
But what is it about lofts? Doug Kelbaugh’s the dean of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan.
“Lofts have a certain cache… they started in London and New York, where older manufacturing buildings or warehouses, in the case of London, were converted by urban pioneers, often artists, into large, open spaces, typically without separate rooms, and now it’s become sort of a lifestyle issue.”
But luxury lofts like Union Square are a far cry from the gritty artists’ lofts of 1970’s New York. They often have amenities like pools, gyms and game rooms.
“What will happen, is you’ll come up this stairway – there’ll be a landing here – and then there’ll be a second stairway that goes up through the roof to your private rooftop deck…”
Developers often like to call any apartment with big windows and exposed brick a “loft.” University of Illinois Geographer, David Wilson, says it’s all a matter of marketing, that developers aren’t just selling an apartment, they’re selling an identity.
“Developers and builders look at them and they see certain physical attributes: high ceilings, large, expansive windows, and so forth, and they seize upon the idea of marketing these physical attributes. And the marketing process hooks up to the notion of, ‘Let’s play to the identity of these people. Let’s make them appealing, let’s make them attractive.'”
So when people see apartments that look like lofts, they don’t think about washing those big windows, they think of having the hip, urban lifestyle that the windows imply. Take Hannah Thurston. She’s a 23-year-old student. She and her husband are putting down a deposit on one of the Union Square apartments.
“I’m hoping that the other people moving in will be great neighbors. Obviously, we’ll have a lot in common being young professionals, obviously there are a lot of nice perks.”
But whatever developers’ motivations, and whatever people might think of them, lofts are succeeding at one thing: they’re bringing at least some new people many of the nation’s abandoned city centers.
For the GLRC, I’m Nora Flaherty.