Saturday, May 30, 2009

Who Is Renting These Places?

I just read on the Petersburg People's News site that developer Thomas Wilkinson is proposing to develop the industrial property at the corner of Market and Hinton into up to 120 conventional one and two bedroom apartments, with projected rents of $700-$1100. And I had to wonder, is this a case of the if you build it they will come mentality? Permit me a little skepticism. $1100 a month? For a two-bedroom apartment? In Petersburg? Blink. I've rented a house in Virginia Beach for less, and that didn't even include a bonus daily encounter in the parking lot with, alternately, my choice of itinerant panhandler or fake-gun-wielding man in a dress.

This set me to doing a little impromptu research. This is certainly not the first of such projects proposed, nor will it be even close to first completed. You can't swing a dead cat these days without hitting the speculator du jour in the mouth while he's spouting details of the latest development scheme. Mayton Transfer boasts 100 apartments, renting for between $800 and $1600 a month. Then there are South Street Lofts and High Street Lofts and Dunlop Street Lofts, oh my! It appears the going rate for all these several hundred luxury lofts within the confines of one of the poorest cities in Virginia is in the range of $900-1400. SOMEBODY with a large amount of disposable income is renting these places. According to South Street's website, there are only two vacant apartments in their complex. So I dug around on some of these developments' sites to try to find the pool from which they draw their renters (I obviously am missing the boat on this), and what struck me was this: Boy do these places sound like they're in another town! To a one, the "neighborhood" sections of the websites include only the best areas of town (not a single one has pictures of their actual surroundings, opting instead for the more aesthetically appealing Court House, Pamplin Park, Folly Castle (the aerial view), the proposed Visitor's Center, etc. I'm all for putting a positive face on the city, but when Pamplin Park is in the same neighborhood as the Dunlop Street Lofts, I'll strike it rich running the bookstore in Petersburg!

In fairness to the loft developers, these apartments, as restored, are undeniably works of art. They boast hardwood floors, high ceilings, exposed brickwork, open floor plans. The list of amenities is impressive, and some utilities are included at some sites. And, all of the sites mentioned within the context of this blog actually have gated parking lots. So an encounter such as the one I alluded to in my first paragraph is unlikely. But I find myself wondering, how much protection is a fence when the predominant threat is a stray bullet from the surrounding blighted 'hood? And why are service members from out of state signing up for these places, sometimes sight unseen, without a little more truth in advertising from the complexes? Is it because the developers understand that, in real estate, location is everything? And if they showed their diamonds in the rough as they really are, potential renters might not be able to see the pretty new trees for the surrounding tangled forest? Is it also just possible that some of the money and energy being spent to wall these high end, palatial developments off from their surroundings might better be used pursuing improvement of the city at large?

4 comments:

Geffrei said...

Hey! Clay and I were in your store about a month ago from Norfolk, talking about the book business. Anyway, I got your first email today and have been reading your blog, it seems to me that as good a bookseller you are, you are really an author instead. It's very well written! I'm glad I know about it!

Kristy said...

Thank you so much, Geffrei! How is life at Prince? Writing was/is the ultimate goal (a la Louise Erdrich). Of course, right now it seems most of my writing is in sound-bite-sized chunks.

Ron said...

Whoes renting these future projects? In time they'll be on the auction block. It's only a matter of time...

Kristy said...

I'm not sure whether they'll be on the auction block. Since I wrote this, some folks I know in the biz have commented that military folks are renting most of the existing ones. Rental rates are conveniently fixed right around the max for BAH. My problem is that these upscale developments are outpacing the improvement of the surrounding community. What good is a pristinely beautiful apartment if residents don't feel safe walking outside the gates of the parking lot? And who does that benefit,really? I did see that the Hinton St rezoning decision has been deferred for more study, which I take as a positive sign.