Downtown not a hard sell, but most of what’s available are rentals.
By Caren Burmeister Contributing Writer
With short commutes to work, views of the St. Johns River and a leisurely walk to entertainment, Downtown can be an attractive option for homebuyers and investors.
If only there were more residential real estate to go around.
There are about 2,365 units in the urban core and most of them are rentals, said Guy Parola, operations manager for the Downtown Investment Authority.
Of the 613 units now under construction, all are intended for rent, he said.
The inventory of condos and townhomes that can be purchased account for roughly 30 percent of them. As a result, many buyers are settling into the nearby neighborhoods of Riverside, San Marco and Springfield.
Downtown isn’t a hard sell, Realtors say. Many of its units have balconies or rooftop decks with sweeping views of the river and city skyline. They also have easy access to Interstate 95 and are within walking distance to dining, the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium at TIAA Bank Field, the Florida Theatre, the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts or the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.
Young professionals, in particular, are drawn to Downtown’s energy, walkability and convenience, said Realtor Linda Hutchins, president and owner of LMH Solutions.
“All those things drive younger people to the area,” Hutchins said. “Other than the Beaches, this is where everything is happening. If that’s where you work and play, why not live there, too?”
Plus, there’s a lot more business and entertainment to come. Jaguars owner Shad Khan is working on a project that includes two high-rise office buildings, a hotel and a concert venue on a parking lot next to Daily’s Place amphitheater, just west of the stadium.
On the Southbank, the city approved an economic development agreement for The District, a mixed-use concept at the former JEA generating station site.
The concept promotes healthy living through a design that encourages walkability and services.
It’s a smart move, said Hutchins, noting Jacksonville’s growing interest in health and wellness.
“The new YMCA is just packed with people” she said, referring to the Winston Family YMCA in Riverside. “That’s why The District will be a game-changer. It will just ripple out into the surrounding area. Even the announcement will have an immediate effect.”
It’s also good news for Springfield residents, said Crissie Cudd, a Realtor at Southern Moss Realty in Springfield.
“Everything that enhances Downtown, enhances Springfield,” Cudd said. “Springfield used to be desirable because it was inexpensive. Now, buyers are saying they want to be a part of this.”
The urban core also appeals to buyers seeking neighborhoods with historic charm.
The mix of architectural styles and floor plans, and the close relationships residents form with neighborhood pubs, stores and churches create a sense of place, said Realtor Jon Singleton.
“There’s a core group of families that are really interested in these historic community homes,” said Singleton, who lives in San Marco. “There’s something really nice about walking into the coffee shop and they know who you are. The kicker is roots. Folks who move into historic neighborhoods put down roots.”
Cudd, who lives in Springfield, agrees.
“We came for the house and stayed for the people,” she said.
Safety can be a challenge in selling real estate in the urban core, Hutchins said, especially because of its walkability.
But Cudd said that’s changing, at least in Springfield.
“In the past, Springfield had a rough-and-tumble reputation,” Cudd said. “But that has changed so much in the last decade, even more so now that we’ve come out of the recession. That’s a thing of the past.”
By far, the biggest challenge to selling Downtown real estate is inventory, an issue that affects all of Jacksonville and is driving up prices.
Median sales prices in the Downtown/Springfield area rose nearly 40 percent in 2017, according Northeast Florida Association of Realtors’ annual report.
Downtown prices range from $68,000 for a small studio condo to $1.4 million for a four-bedroom luxury condo with amenities such as fitness centers, libraries, business centers, coffee shops and cafes.