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Downtown living continues to expand

Nathan Baker • Mar 3, 2019 at 7:30 AM

Along with an increase in business activity, downtown Johnson City’s renaissance has brought new residents who want to live near the action and quality-of-life amenities of the re-emerging district.

Eva Hunter, principal broker and property manager for the Wilson Agency, said the number of available properties and people living downtown have increased dramatically in the last decade as economic activity churned back to life in the city’s core.

“It’s convenient,” she said. “People can live and work downtown, they can bicycle to the university and the Tweetsie Trail. The people who live downtown want to be where it’s easy to commute.”

The Wilson Agency, formerly the Urban Redevelopment Alliance, manages residential units downtown, from Tipton Street Apartments, 31 lofts in a block of converted historic buildings, to Paxton Place, a 26-unit building at State of Franklin Road and North Roan Street URA built five years ago from the ground up.

Hunter said the apartments and condos stay near full occupancy, with prospective residents on waiting lists hoping for someone to move out.

“Those occupancy rates are unheard of,” she said. “They show the area is highly desirable, and it says a lot about the owners they represent. People want to live in these units.”

Brent Long, a developer who opened London Lofts four years ago at the cross streets of Commerce and West Market, said he’s also seeing significant demand for downtown living spaces.

Since opening the first 20 lofts in what was once a hardware store and even earlier the Farmers Exchange building, Long has purchased additional properties in or near the downtown area.

“When we initially opened up the London building, it was a hold our breath and hope this works kind of thing,” he said. “But the demand has been so strong, and so many people want to be part of what’s going on down there.”

Both property managers said the people living downtown don’t fit into a single group.

The Wilson Agency rents to retirees, working professionals and students, Long said his company’s tenants are mostly professionals and graduate students from a wide age range.

One thing Long said his tenants seems to want is a community. Long has installed covered bicycle racks and small free libraries at all of his properties to cater to those desires. A large draw is the properties’ proximity to outdoor parks, restaurants and bars, which provide opportunities for different social events.

Long said each of his properties are unique and appeal to different types of people. A new, near-downtown development offers smaller units with prices to reflect their size. It’s at the base of Tannery Knobs, however, and puts outdoor enthusiasts close to the developing mountain bike park above and the downtown core below.

At 116 E. Market St., in the heart of the city, London Living will soon begin leasing four upstairs lofts in what was once lovingly called “the hole,” because it was only a shell of a building with a dirt floor. When the lofts open in the next couple of months, Long said they will cater to higher-end tenants, with between 800 and 1,800 square feet of living space and rooftop decks.

“We’re trying to bring unique spaces downtown, these aren’t cookie-cutter properties,” Long said. “Each one has its own identity, and they appeal to that demographic that wants something different.”

One county by the Johnson City Development Authority estimates 515 apartments and condos within the Downtown Johnson City Redevelopment District, but that tally included student housing complexes Monarch and University Edge, which would make up a majority. In the city’s core, along Main, Market, Tipton, Commerce and Spring streets, there are 15 different buildings with rental properties for lease.

In the next year, more are expected to begin offering rooms in desirable areas, like across from the city’s new King Commons park. Along that stretch of Commerce, behind Londons Lofts, developers are racing to rehabilitate and open their lofts.

The owners of existing properties said there is still plenty of room in the market for the new properties.

“I think it’s going to continue to grow,” Long said. “More and more people and businesses want to be down here. Every time new biz opens up, it brings a set downtown that weren’t there before.

“We’re going to get more demand for living space and for things to do. When you get that synergy of people coming in, people want to be around it, they want to be a part of it.”

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