By Bryan Horwath
An analyst doing contract work for Downtown Wichita says developers are beginning to better understand the residential market in the city's core.
Laurie Volk, of the New Jersey-based Zimmerman/Volk Associates residential market analysis firm, met with the Downtown Wichita board last week.
"In the last five years, I think that the developers here are really starting to understand downtown housing," Volk said. "If you look at Broadway Autopark, that's very cool. Everyone was very skeptical, saying that only men would rent there. Well, the first five renters were women. That shows you that thinking outside the box can work."
Broadway Autopark, 303 S. Broadway, is an old parking garage that Bokeh Development turned into a 44-unit apartment and offices complex. It's often talked about as one of the most creative downtown refurbishing projects in recent memory.
While Volk had plenty of praise for the changes made to the downtown residential market in the past decade — she said she remembers downtown Wichita as being almost desolate back in 2009 — she added that developers might want to downsize just a bit.
For instance, while a one-bedroom or loft downtown apartment can definitely be found for less than $800 per month, many are more than that, especially the new complexes.
"We actually recommend micro-lofts here, which would have about 300 square feet," Volk said. "With smaller, cheaper units, you could really start to attract more of the younger professionals who maybe aren't making $50,000 per year yet."
Downtown developer Jason Van Sickle agrees with Volk.
"The trend across the nation is toward smaller and more affordable downtown apartment development," Van Sickle said. "The first wave of housing development that typically comes with downtown revitalization targets higher end price ranges ($900 to $1,200 in Wichita), which is aimed at attracting young professionals."
"As that price range gets saturated, then the move is toward more affordable mid-range rates ($600 to $900 in Wichita), which is aimed at attracting downtown service industry workers. Wichita is nearing saturation in that first phase, so we should see things start to move toward more affordable price points."
When asked about how far she thinks downtown Wichita has come along in the past decade, Volk said what's happened here has surpassed her expectations.
"Oh, God, yes," Volk said. "Now, there's starting to be interest from outside developers. When they move in, watch out."