Making Change: Living Downtown

Featured Audio

Let's say you're a young professional, new to the area... or just looking for a different kind of neighborhood from the rest of Cleveland. You're looking for a place to live where there are others like you, where there is stuff to do within walking distance, or where it just seems cool... then perhaps you'd look downtown. That's what Michelle Lee did when she finished her business degree at the Weatherhead School of Management. Originally from Australia, the 24 year old Lee always considered herself an urban kind of gal... so she was pleasantly surprised to find that downtown Cleveland offered a neighborhood and apartment she could really fit into.

MICHELLE LEE: ...and my bedroom over looks my lounge room, and I really like that. And what I fell in love with when I came here was... I fell in love with my walk-closet.

In addition to the physical accoutrements of her loft on West Ninth, Lee says downtown's proximity to her job; its central location; and the restaurants just outside her door are all things she loves. It's what she wanted when she moved in two years ago-the first tenant to occupy the space.

ML: I didn't really think about the fact that not many people lived down here. I just thought about the location, how central it was. But I've noticed that a lot more young people are moving downtown. I have a lot of friends that live downtown and so I think there's been a trend, a shift towards more young professionals moving downtown.

And that's a pretty good hunch. Not only has downtown's population grown to nearly 6,000 people, most of them are young professionals, according to Tom Yablonsky, executive director of both the Historic Gateway and Warehouse District Development Corporation. Yablonsky says condominiums and townhouses are going up without the financial incentives that used to lure developers -and these new homes appeal to older professionals or empty nesters. Yablonsky says, the townhouses built on West Tenth practically flew off the shelf...

TOM YABLONSKY: And those all sold out very quickly. There were probably about triple the amounts of buyers there were for the amount of units. And even in the one resale we had, I know that it sold for about $100,000 more than what it cost to buy originally.

Property rates appreciating in Downtown Cleveland? Young people wanting to live downtown? Who'da thunk it twenty years ago? Not Tom Bier, director of the center of housing research at Cleveland State University. Bier says 20 years ago, even if someone wanted to live downtown she faced pressure from the business establishment that frowned on "decent people" living anywhere but the proper suburbs.

Tom Bier: And when you have a corporate culture pressing that attitude on Cleveland and on the banks, how do you create new housing for these people in downtown Cleveland... against these forces who are saying "No, this is stupid, no, this is stupid, no this is stupid." It's tough. Very tough.

But today, maybe it's not such a stupid idea. These days, rental rates downtown average around 880-dollars a month and some condos are selling for more than 400-thousand dollars. It may seem pricey, but Bier says expensive housing is actually a good sign.

TB: If you don't produce the kind of housing that people who can afford to live in the suburbs would choose, they will live in the suburbs and not the city. And the city will only get weaker and weaker. The only way you can strengthen the city is to get people with more money into it. That's the only, only, only way to strengthen the city.

Besides, Bier says, strengthening downtown, helps the entire region. Think about the museums, ballparks and theatres-if the downtown is flailing, suburbanites are less likely to go downtown to enjoy those amenities and soon enough, those institutions may not stick around either. Then what's left? If you thing about it from an outsider's point of view, as downtown denizen Michelle Lee does, how can we attract visitors and newcomers to Northeast Ohio if at least some those amenities aren't downtown?

ML: You have the tourists that come here and stay downtown and this is their point of contact, downtown. And they're going to see a ghost town. And it's important for the city of Cleveland to really develop and promote downtown living in order to attract more people to live here and to change the image of it being a stodgy, old, steel-factory city.

Even if we want to keep that stodgy image, it's still in the region's interest to build up downtown. The more people that live downtown, the more restaurants, retail and grocery stores will open up shop and the belief is that more people will see downtown as a viable neighborhood. And this may not be so far-fetched. Those involved with building up downtown look at the recent increase in demand for housing and say if the trend keeps up, as many as 20,000 thousand people could be living downtown within the next ten to fifteen years. In Cleveland, sn, 90.3.

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