Friday, January 08, 2010

Happy Happy New Year!

This past New Years Eve, like most people, I hoped for better times. Real estate this year has been heartbreaking. Going through the 92 sales that took place in the downtown area (according to the MLS), most of them were sold at a sizeable drop from when they were most recently sold. One loft we sold in 2006 was sold in 2009 for 18% less. That was more the rule than the exception this year. Buyers are the true beneficiary.

On a side note, Congratulations to Blue City Spaces. They seem to have reinvigorated their sales this year by offering incentives and maintaining an active social media campaign. Nothing like the years when Loftwork or Pyramid would close 50-80 sales a piece, but their 12 sales (per MLS) last year showed they are committed to keeping the project alive intead of moving quickly to refinance and rent the property. Hopefully that continues.

There are several other things that are interesting and reassuring at this point.

1. Last Year at this time, it felt that we were continuing our slide into the recession. The bottom had just dropped out of the stock market and banks weren't lending their own money. Now it feels like we are working our way out. I'm hearing signs that banks are starting to look at being portfolio lenders, rather than just being mortgage brokers. The massive job loss is coming to a halt.

2. Despite the downturn, the urban renaissance in St Louis marches on. St Louisans are continuing to decide that they want to be downtown. Population is on the rise. While sales were the lowest (92) downtown since 2004, the rental market is robust. Businesses here, while still struggling, seems to be holding up better than the region as a whole. New additions of the Culinaria and CityGarden seem to have energized downtown and added a positive element to the regions perspective on Downtown. Plans for the Avenida Lofts have been converted to a mostly commercial renovation which is ongoing. When we began working extensively in Downtown in 2004, one really had to have an imagination. Having a vibrant downtown where people want to be is more and more a reality. The continued activity even during this recession will continue to pull people in.

My long term perspective for Downtown St Louis is good. One of the things holding up many would be downtown residents is that they want to see housing prices recover on their big suburban homes before they sell and enjoy city living. That probably won't happen tomorrow, but we're working in that direction. The housing market still has some shuffling to do, but its happening.

Now it is more important that ever for Downtown St Louisans to work together and remain active in DSLRA. While the big projects like CityGarden get the headlines, the small community based programs and volunteering can also go a long way towards supporting the effort to continue growth and revitalization.

Most neighborhood associations put on some form of housing tour annually. While the Partnership for Downtown St Louis has taken on this role each year to mainly serve condo developers, that tour has been scaled back and virtually eliminated. In its present form, it still seems based too much around new condo or rental projects and not enough around the real community. It would be nice to see a real community based neighborhood tour grow into the void. Great things could happen.

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