Second Housing Analysis Coming

May 26, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Downtown Development Authority will update the housing market analysis it conducted for the district four years ago and will contract for the work with the same New Jersey firm that did the initial analysis in 2004.

Zimmerman/Volk Associates of Clinton, N.J., has agreed to perform the update for $17,500, with half of the payment to come before the work starts and the remainder due when the final report is filed.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said market changes in the district and a continuing interest from developers in creating residences downtown are the main reasons driving the update effort. Fowler added that local developers felt the time was right for another housing report.

“We’ve gotten very good feedback from the development community because this is a good tool for them,” he said.

“This is a marketing tool that we use when a developer comes to town and wants information on the housing market,” added DDA member Joseph Tomaselli.

Since the 2004 report was filed, Fowler said 608 new housing units have been built, 298 more are under construction, 130 are in the planning stage, and 252 rental units have been converted to condominiums.

“It’s truly a remarkable story,” said Fowler of the growth in downtown housing despite the current market problems that plague the region and the nation.

In 2004, V/ZA Principal Laurie Volk told the DDA that she thought the district would be a strong enough market to support 350 new units each year for five straight years. She said young singles and young couples were the groups most likely to want to live downtown — about 60 percent of the potential market — with empty nesters and retirees next with the most potential. Volk also said then that 55 percent of potential downtown residents would rather rent than buy.

Volk told the DDA four years ago that the adaptive reuse of buildings was why the housing market would grow in the district, as downtown residents like the open space a converted warehouse or factory can offer them.

But to reach the market’s full potential, Volk said downtown had to become one big neighborhood, and the best way to accomplish that was to use an appropriate urban design throughout the district.

“People that want to live in a city don’t want to live in a suburban setting,” she said.

Volk also told board members back then that she was surprised to learn that downtown developers were a fairly happy group. More often than not she said her talks with developers revolve around how they’re not getting enough help with a project from a city. But she told the DDA she heard the opposite response here.

One thing the DDA has already received an update on regarding the downtown housing market is that the price of analyzing it has risen since 2004. Four years ago, the board paid V/AZ $12,000 for the analysis — $5,500 less than the upcoming update. But in 2004, the DDA was able to piggyback on a larger residential market analysis the Grand Valley Metro Council underwrote. That analysis covered the metro area, which made the downtown report less expensive for the DDA.

Fowler said a “well-known nonprofit housing developer” would reimburse the DDA for half of the study’s cost, so the cost for the DDA could end up being less than the $12,000 the board paid for the first analysis. Board members allocated $20,000 for the update at their last meeting.

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