Rental with a Side of Food

The news is awash with desperate landlords offering incentives in every shape and form to attract and retain tenants. What many may be overlooking is a larger trend: More than ever, renters want living space with easy access to good food.

The New York Times recently profiled a butcher shop that expanded into a mixed-use facility, including apartments for moderate-income individuals. Even in a large city this apartment had a distinct advantage: a food market right downstairs.

Sure, apartments near restaurants and other dining options have always commanded higher rents. But now that everyone's a foodie, the demand is growing. The challenge? About sixty years of car-centric development in most areas of the United States.

Consider what The Infrastructurist writes:
Gen Xers and Millennials want a lifestyle closer to Friends and Seinfeld (that is, walkable and urban) than to Tony Soprano (low density and suburban). It's not that nobody wants Tony Soprano. About 50 percent of Americans actually do want that configuration. But ... The other 50 percent of Americans want walkable urban arrangements and yet that's just 20 percent of the housing stock. That's called pent-up demand. "
Here are two housing markets where developers and city officials are working to create pockets of the "Seinfeld" rental experience. One project aims to revitalize an existing historic district, and another is a new development on the suburban outskirts.

Historic Downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles has made concerted efforts to reestablish its "historic downtown" as a walkable place to live, work and eat. As a result, mixed-use rental developments are popping up between Broadway, Spring and Main.

A slew of full-service restaurants, bars and night clubs, as well as a 50,000-square foot Ralph's Fresh Fare grocery store have opened up in recent years. One newer downtown development following in their wake is The Medallion. It's a stone's throw from a dozen retailers including a new cupcakery, Big Man Bakes, at 4th and Main.

Convenient shopping and nightlife might be one reason Angelenos are retrying city living, but another factor is that their long-time love affair with their cars may be waning. "People are looking to avoid commuting," Hal Bastian, director of economic development at the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, says. Back in 2000, only 20 percent of downtown residents lived and worked there. "Today, 60 percent do."

Cumming, Georgia - Atlanta Outskirts

Vickery Village in Cumming, GA, outside of Atlanta, is an upscale community where renters have a collection of storefronts including a bank, a dry cleaners, nail salon and restaurants right nearby. They even have YMCA on their doorsteps.

Rick Tanner's Grille and Bar recently opened in Vickery Village because its owners liked the busy semi-urban environment. They say revenues are double what they were at a previous strip mall location.

While Villagers might be able to walk a short way for an ice cream cone or their Saturday morning errands, you wouldn't mistake this development for a city neighborhood. Not surprising, it's near a highway to speed residents to their jobs or downtown Atlanta.

Still, these two communities offer a glimpse of how the desire to recapture the ease and convenience of pedestrian-designed spaces might play out in different parts of the country.

Katie McCaskey is co-owner of George Bowers Grocery, a specialty grocery with apartments above featuring "staple goods and fancy groceries" in Staunton, Virginia.

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