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Bridge Square


I toured Bridge Square yesterday, the latest addition to the downtown housing market. The former Josh Lofton High School also has offices, which will be occupied by Passero Associates.

The 24 apartments are one and two bedroom units. The rents will be $1,000-1,300 a month, placing them out of range for many Rochester area residents. The median income in Monroe County is about $50,204. The median rent is $780.

According to the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, downtown dwellers paid an average of $1.17 a square foot in 2011. Developers say they can’t make the numbers work without charging at least $1 a square foot.

Clearly, downtown housing units, particularly renovated loft-style apartments, command a premium. Example include the Temple Building, 44 Exchange and H.H. Warner Lofts.  The RDDC survey indicated a 4 percent vacancy rate in 2011 for downtown market rate units, considered a healthy market.

Why is downtown so hot?

Real estate agent Mark Siwiec, who owns a number of properties in the Park Ave. area, has an interesting theory. “It doesn’t have as much to do with the fact they’re downtown.  When something comes on the market in great condition, you’re able to command top dollar in Rochester. It has little to do with the location and more to do with the quality and the apartment. People are starved for a good product. …I’m always being asked to show a loft style apartment…they don’t often exist.”

Siwiec says the quality of the new downtown units combined with their unique, cosmopolitan feel makes them very attractive. He added the local rental housing market as a whole is strong.

It won’t be easy to put more of these units in the pipeline. Even though downtown has a lot of space that could be converted into housing, it’s challenging to make the numbers work. We’re talking about old buildings constructed as factories or offices, not houses. That’s where grant programs and historic tax credits can make a difference.

Unless a slew of these units come online and the cost of constructing them comes down, the rent will remain high.

Links of the Day:

– New York State doesn’t appear inclined to violate the Seneca gambling compact by opening casinos in Buffalo and Rochester.

– New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is more than happy to let casinos stay Upstate.

– Onondaga County’s district attorney accused police of continuing to question suspects after they request a lawyer.

– Jim Boeheim is accused of being too lax on players and too harsh on the press.

When is it okay to let people know you smoke weed?

– There’s a lot going on in this turn-of-the-century picture of West Main Street.

23 Responses to The Rent is Too High…Downtown?

  1. I’ve been inside the Smith-Gormly lofts on St. Paul and they are stunning. Downtown may not be as happening as Park Ave and the South Wedge, but I wouldn’t mind paying $1,500/month for a space like that if I could afford it. One loft I was in had two entrance doors directly opposite each other in the hallway. It actually wrapped around the building and had all these nooks and crannies. Plus, the views from the top floor were spectacular.

  2. Incidentally, the proposed apartment complex on University Ave that’s worried the Eastman House is going have loft-style units. I’m told that Rochester already has an overstock of housing but it would seem that there’s still demand for certain kinds of housing. Waterfront, since Erie Harbor, the Hamilton, and Corn Hill Landing are all doing well. Sounds like lofts are the other big one.

  3. January 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm Hahvahd St responds:

    I guess I’m at the opposite end of this spectrum. I’d rather have a great location and an average apartment than an incredible place where I don’t want to hang out in the neighborhood (aka Park Ave area).

  4. I agree, actually. Lack of great neighborhood would be a real drawback to living downtown. Right now, anyway. Hopefully this loft boom will spur more development.

  5. Given what homeowners in the Monroe County area and NYS pay for property taxes, downsizing to a downtown space at this rental price point may actually lower monthly housing costs.

  6. I wish they would have condos or more (and a little more attractive) row houses downtown that were just a little more affordable. Id definitely buy if here were. Hopefully well see some business follow the proper back to downtown, but with the desire for massive sprawling stores many neighborhoods lack a grocery store or other basic utilitarian retail.

  7. January 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm Michael Delaney responds:

    I live in the Kirstein building, and yes, the quality of the apartment is a large factor. New energy-efficient appliances and in-unit laundry help offset the extra cost, and the newer apartment is easier to keep clean.

    But do not dismiss the draw of downtown living. I both live and work downtown. I walk to work every day. If I lived elsewhere and drove in, I would still have to walk from a parking garage (which is exactly half the distance I walk now). For this reason, there is only one car between my partner and me. The savings of not needing two cars more than makes up for the extra cost of the rent.

    Being downtown, we are right in the middle of the neighborhoods. So, in the summer, riding a bike to meet up with friends in the south wedge or park ave areas becomes easy – healthy living. And walking back after having a few drinks saves on cabs.

    Some people worry about crime downtown, but if you look at the hotspots, it’s actually “happening” neighborhoods which have more muggings. I have never had any issues downtown – and I’ve walked home from work at 3am before.

    Although you suburbanites might scoff at the thought, bus travel in rochester becomes a viable form of transportation when you live downtown (and often just as fast). For example, I did last minute shopping at marketplace mall via the holiday express bus. The travel time was just the same as it would have been for a car, and instead of having to stress out over traffic, I relaxed to music and checked facebook on my phone.

    With all of the downtown development projects (like the bus terminal, midtown, revitalization of the sibley building, and more), expect to see more and more reason to move downtown.

    My hope is that we see more occupant owned buildings – like the capron lofts, except by a better development company (I’ve heard a few bad things about Belmont). People say: “I could get a nice house for the same price anywhere in the city or suburbs.” But with that, comes the cost and responsibility of a full house. As a young professional, living in a loft downtown means a more luxurious place to live with less maintenance. And that translates into more time to work or play.

  8. January 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm DominionROC responds:

    Rents in a downtown district are rather high throughout EVERY American city. Its a function of high land values and the true cost to construct or rehabilitate in a high density environment. ROC will never have a highly concentrated residential neighborhood like NYC or Chicago…not even close. Just accept the fact that a downtown can thrive without housing. We just need to create a safe downtown environment and build unique, high quality amenities…in the areas of arts, culture, live entertainment, dining…etc. Building a bus terminal and eliminating bus stops along Main Street will be a MAJOR step forward.

  9. sorry about the misspelling, guess I shouldn’t post from a phone

  10. January 11, 2013 at 8:40 pm Orielly responds:

    I thought Ms Barnhart said that there was a “boom” housing market down town? Now there isn’t because the rent is too dam high?

    As I said then the “boom” is almost always described in terms of % of increase. Ya know 5 years ago vs today its a 5000% increase in downtown housing, but of course 5yrs ago there was only one sale.

    REAL numbers, actual new buyers are still way low downtown, in numbers compared to other parts of the area.

    Again if you want to have a dog or cat that goes outside, Downtown doesn’t work. So that takes out about half the market on that claim alone.

    Again this is agenda reporting. More people buy and sell in Pittsford or Greece at the same prices or higher day after day and thats not “news”. But somebody buys a 300K loft in the city and its a major story.

    • January 12, 2013 at 8:39 pm Michael Delaney responds:

      You’d be surprised about how many people have a dog or cat and live downtown. At least 30% of the people who live in my building have a cat, dog, or both.

  11. One thing I worry about with this alleged downtown housing boom is that it is just moving people from other city neighborhoods or is it attracting people from the ‘burbs too?

  12. January 12, 2013 at 10:31 am Richard L responds:

    This new construction may look good, but you need to be careful of sound issues before renting. I once lived in a brand new, ultraswanky downtown condo building (not in Rochester) that ultimately was a disappointment because it was built so cheaply, with tissue thin walls. (See, e.g., the Chapel Hill apartments on Prince Street.) On the other hand, some building conversions (that may use existing walls) can be excellent in this regard. Hopefully Bridge Square is the latter type.

  13. @dominionROC- how does your comment jive with the reality that people want to pay more to live there? Doesn’t that mean other wise investors will seek to add more product to this lucrative market? The way you create a safe, thriving environment is by adding people. It helps to have people who can pay for some stuff. And I’m curious about examples you have of downtowns thriving without housing.

    Also: @Orielly: I live in a loft building in Brooklyn with roughly 50 units. At least 20 have dogs. Mostly large. We have no yard. People, are paying twice the price of these apartments for the privilege.

    • January 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm DominionROC responds:

      Greg…Thriving downtown do have a lot of housing…but what came first? Downtown’s are supposed to be “regional centers”…that attract people from the whole region…from the city, from the suburbs, from the far away towns and lastly from tourists. What attracts them?…ACTIVITY…arts/culture/professional sports/financial institutions/legal and government facilities, restaurants, retail and entertainment….and all of this in a safe quality environment. After this is achieved…people want to live close to this ACTION…so they rent or buy condos downtown…and without heavy government subsidies.

      Rochester thinks it can be a dynamic downtown by heavily subsidizing downtown housing. This is naive, expensive and counter-productive. I don’t have a problem with people living downtown…but there should be little or no public subsidies. Public dollars should go towards creating quality regional venues/activities/festivals/parks and entertainment in a SAFE dynamic environment. Rochester has not been successful achieving this! Concentrate on these issue…and less on housing.

  14. The issue is not having the dog, or cat, its walking the dog or letting the cat out. Walk the dog at 1 am in DT Rochester? Not many want to do that. And if they do, the bigger the dog the better, no doubt.
    Let the cat out? Hard to find its way back.

  15. While downtown is safe, the resurgence the west side is seeing will be killed by St Joesph’s Mission. No one wants to be next to a homeless shelter, the buildings near it are empty. No one wants to be near homeless people, they don’t make good neighbours.

  16. @DominionRoc: well I’m not extremely familiar with the project but is doesn’t seem as if these have direct subsidies. And I reiterate: these places (presumably) are renting at a high price. For those paying those prices, apparently the amenities and nearby activities are suitable.

    As far as “what came first?”… usually the people. The neighborhood where I currently live was largely underused warehouses 25 years ago when people started moving to it. It is now the most happening palace in America by many measures, and we have two TV shows about it.

    • January 16, 2013 at 9:00 am DominionROC responds:

      Greg….you are correct that people came first…but people came because downtown had something to offer. It was the center for commerce/retail/government offices/legal offices…then restaurants/nightlife/entertainment/professional sports venues/art/cultural venues/festivals…etc. downtowns are regional centers that offer unique activities that were not available in city neighborhoods and suburban towns. Then people moved to downtown to have quick access to all of these amenities. This is the process of being a great downtown.

      ROC thinks it can accomplish this by enticing people to move downtown first…it doesn’t make sense. I don’t go downtown to see people who live there…I go for activities/amenities/venues…etc.

      And just about every residential project downtown gets subsidies. In some cases MASSIVE subsidies. The Mill at High Falls…over $100,000 per apt subsidies! This is insane!

  17. Pingback: Micro-Rochester? » The Rochesterian

  18. this dialogue is very one sided. I have lived in one city or another my entire life (other than my time in undergrad). I resent the fact that you think that i may be a “problem” based on where i live. stop being afraid because you are ignorant. city living keeps its negative stigma because people with a voice have no real idea of what it is. busses need to service the community as a whole not just segments of it. if you prefer a mode of transportation that is not public don’t choose a public one (your car is a nice option). the truth is suburbanites fund those neighborhoods that they claim they don’t want to live in (by purchasing whatever contraband is for sale). every under-privleged person does not present a threat because they cannot afford to make you comfortable with their outward appearance. I don’t like to feel stereotyped by the underlying tones of some of your comments based on views of a demographic you know nothing about. safety is a great concern (everywhere) but the ignorant views that you lend credence to are ridiculous.

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