Housing improvement in downtown Akron is simply starting

Downtown Akron has had an apartment rift in recent years, with several large projects unveiling hundreds of new homes and more seem to be constantly coming in the pipeline.

But if you think downtown has all the homes and residents it can support, downtown supporters, business development experts, and home builders have some of the current projects for you new for you: Downtown is just beginning to meet its housing needs . It can support hundreds or even thousands more homes, planners say. Current project developers say their early experiences have encouraged them enough to do more.

“I think we are nowhere near close,” said Donzell Taylor, CEO of Welty Building Co., and asked if he thought downtown Akron housing had reached a saturation point.

“Akron needs 4,000 to 5,000 homes near the central business district to meet that demand,” says Taylor. “I think we are still a long way from that.”

Taylor could hit the pulse of the downtown Akron housing market better than almost anyone. He is not only a builder, but also a landlord. It largely got Akron’s major Bowery redevelopment project over the finish line, launching 92 new luxury apartments in early 2020.

However, if you want one, it may be too late. Taylor said in an interview on Aug. 10 that he only had the last few units left to rent.

“We have two units left. 90 of 92 are rented out. And I think 87 or 88 of those are occupied,” said Taylor. “We are seeing very strong demand for the product we brought to market and I think others will see the same demand.”

Nor does he mention the demand for cheap housing with low rents. A studio apartment on the Bowery costs over $ 1,000 a month, and the most expensive, larger units cost over $ 3,000 a month.

Akron rents have increased, but the Bowery is still a high-rent neighborhood by Akron standards, like many other new downtown developments.

Other projects also report that they have no problem renting new units in the city center.

“We delivered our first phase on the Standard, which included our common area and 31 units. To date, we have rented 30 of those 31 units,” said Christopher Mouron, executive vice president of Capstone Real, Alabama Real Estate Investments. Mouron’s company is converting the former 22 Exchange Student Housing Complex on South Main and Exchange Streets into 236 apartments at market prices.

In the street where Main and Market Streets meet, developer Tony Troppe cites a similar reception for his developments, which tend to be smaller and fit into historic buildings in Akron’s art district.

“Our last project consisted of 20 units. We still have two available, ”said Troppe, referring to new lofts he had just developed in the Everett Building in Main and Market. “So the absorption rate is solid.”

Across from the Bowery, The 159 – consisting of 107 luxury apartments in the former Law Building, built by New Jersey developer Toy Rybak – is also well let. Like The Bowery, the project is designed for upscale renters, and rents range from $ 1,200 to $ 2,500 per month.

It hit the market later in May, but Rybak said he was happy with the lease history so far. He said the building is about half rented and is quickly attracting new tenants.

“We have a 90% success rate when one person tours the building,” said Rybak, noting that many of his tenants are transplants moving to Akron from other cities and states. “We have people visiting the building on Monday and they want to move in on Wednesday.”

None of this surprises downtown supporters, who have been saying for years that the city center needs and would support more residents. That became clear when a 2018 study – a study that spurred The Bowery and other developments – showed that downtown could support an additional 1,500 housing units. The city has not yet built nearly as many new units in the downtown area.

Around 215 new residential units have been opened in the city center since the end of 2019, most of them in the The 159 and Bowery projects, reports the Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP). Another 140 units are under construction, and more than 200 are planned. That leaves nearly 1,000 to be built to get to the point of 1,500 units.

The current pipeline includes 139 units being developed by Mentors Osborne Capital Group in the former BF Goodrich complex near Canal Place and nearly 100 units yet to be developed at The Standard, but not 142 units that already exist are, but reported to be refurbished at The Standard, DAP. Also in the pipeline are 60 apartments being developed by Cleveland’s Weston developers in the CitiCenter Building on High and Bowery Streets along with other smaller projects, said Kimberly Beckett, director of business relations at DAP.

DAP has worked long and hard to convince developers to do more downtown and is more than happy with the recent development, Beckett said.

“We’re definitely excited about the progress we’ve made,” said Beckett. “Everyone knows we’ve had such challenges in recent years, but it went really well. It shows that people are interested in living in the city center. The demand is there. And that’s exciting.”

The city is also pleased, said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, who has made rebuilding the population of Akron a cornerstone of his administration and encouraged more housing with a 15-year tax break on all new buildings in the city.

“So far, I’m very happy with what we’ve seen in terms of design and development,” said Horrigan. “But we always try to do better.”

To do a lot better, downtown probably needs to attract a few more amenities that downtown residents need and want, the developers say. This includes convenience stores and perhaps a grocery or other fresh food vendor, in addition to existing restaurants and new ones expected to open.

Some of this is already happening. At The Standard, for example, Mouron said he has successfully won multiple retail tenants including Walgreens, Muggswigz Coffee & Tea, Big Mamma’s Burritos, Jimmy John’s, Hair Geek, and DP Dough Calzones.

But at the top of every wish-list is a grocery store. Capstone’s Taylor, Horrigan, and Mouron said they all tried to get a grocery store downtown, but kept being told more residents had to come first.

Mouron said he even tried to open a bodega in town – something Rybak wants to see too.

“I tried a bodega company and got as ridiculously aggressive as we could muster,” said Mouron. “But they still weren’t ready to jump into downtown Akron.”

Taylor said he had also worked to get a downtown grocery store but noted that he and the city will have to be patient. But he sees a natural evolution that once a grocery store and other amenities come downtown, things will only accelerate.

“I’ve had a lot of trouble getting a grocery store in downtown Akron, and part of the challenge is that there just aren’t enough people there,” said Taylor. “You have to achieve critical mass with enough people. But if you do, then the amenities will follow that really make it stand out.”

Taylor was one of several developers who said they were not only happy with their recent projects, but would do more downtown when the opportunity came.

“You never know when you’ll be the first,” said Taylor. “Now that I’ve been through the pandemic, I’m very confident that the city is a good place to do more of this kind of development. … It’s a bull housing market in the downtown area.”