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Baby Boomers heading to Downtowns

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Boomers dig downtowns

Baby boomers are joining younger adults to fuel a boom in downtown living in cities across the nation, and developers are responding by building townhouses and condos.

The movement, under way for several years in big cities like Chicago and New York, is taking hold in mid-sized and smaller cities like Memphis and Orlando, too.

The Memphis Business Journal reports that "seemingly endless" talk of downtown condo development is ongoing. There's more growth in downtown Memphis than in any other part of that city, the business journal reports. Condominium developer Phil Woodard says he expects the growth to continue. "I think you could double what you have now, and it wouldn't be a problem," Woodard says.

There's a downtown condo building boom under way in Orlando. In five years, the number of condo units announced has topped 3,500, a ten-fold increase, the Orlando Business Journal reports. "This is all part of the first wave of condo construction downtown," Craig Ustler, a principal with Condo HQ Orlando LLC, told the business journal.

There is plenty of similar development going on in other Southern cities. According to the Orlando Business Journal: "Betty Harbourt, senior vice president with Coldwell Banker/The Condo Store, believes the explosive nature of the Orlando condo market is not uncommon. "Atlanta was exactly the same way," she notes. In fact, between 1997 and 2001, some 12,000 new and converted condo units were announced for downtown Atlanta."

Even Buffalo, which has seen decades of decline, is experiencing an uptick in downtown interest. Buffalo Business First reports on plans for a condo project that has city officials excited. "Condos create a true neighborhood," said Michael Schmand, Buffalo Place Inc. executive director. "This is the next step we've been waiting for in downtown."

In San Francisco, a city that has never lost its residential allure, owners of commercial buildings coping with a slump have been looking to convert offices to housing. That's much easier in the Bay Area's downtowns than on the outskirts, the San Francisco Business Times reported last year.

"My dream would take vacant R&D campuses and turn them into housing. But that idea is anathema to the planners at the cities who would have to provide sewers and schools for them," said Mark Ritchie, president of Ritchie Commercial, who has studied the issue for his Peninsula clients. "We don't have the older multi-floor industrial buildings here that make for charming condo conversions. It's not like Jack London Square (in Oakland) or South of Market in San Francisco."

While city life has long been a magnet for young people, it has in recent years become a big draw for empty nesters as well. "Downtown is a little edgy and I like that," Joe Royer of Memphis says. "I like seeing the young people having fun and I like the diversity of Downtown."

There's been a shift in who's moving to downtown Atlanta, as well, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "We are seeing increases in the empty-nester phase of the market," said David Tufts, executive vice president and CEO of Coldwell Banker The Condo Store. "It's not totally off the radar screen, but there are so many blips now that you have to take notice."

Existing condo and coop sales were up 6.6 percent in the second quarter, at about the 1 million, the Business Chronicle reports. Thirty-six percent of Baby Boomers expect to buy a new home when they become empty nesters, according to a June survey by Harris Interactive.

"We're looking at the freight train of baby boomers coming down the line as the impetus for better condo designs," Tufts said. "We have to be ready."

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