Therefore, it may be no surprise that a style of living already rooted in such places as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., is only now migrating in. More and more, younger people and downsizing retirees are shunning large, mediocre space for well-appointed, well-located apartments that clock in at less than 750 square feet, say local real estate professionals.
“This is driven in large part by millennial preferences,” said David Butcher, president of developer WCI Partners. “In short, small but very nice is much preferred over large but ‘just OK.’”
A prime example is WCI’s Walnut Court Apartments, which has just been completed at the corner of Walnut and Court streets in a building that long housed the Keefer, Wood, Allen & Rahal law firm. Most of the 21 apartments are snug, one-bedroom units, but have high-end finishes and an industrial feel, which, according to Butcher, is popular among younger professionals.
“The market seems to be willing to exchange square footage for high-quality space—and will even pay a premium for it,” he said.
Demand for Convenience
Harrisburg’s flirtation with small-footprint luxury began about five years ago, when the old Boas Elementary School at the corner of Green and Forster streets was re-made into a boutique, executive-style apartment building. Brickbox Enterprises and Greenworks Development then reconstructed the dilapidated Furlow Building, which was rechristened the COBA, featuring units with a modern, clean design, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.
Brickbox followed that project by tackling the conversion of one of Harrisburg’s premier historic buildings, the former Masonic Temple at N. 3rd and State streets. Today, that building, known as The LUX, features 42 condo units ranging from 545 to 820 square feet, said Pete Weigher, president of TeamPete Realty Services, which manages the building.
At an average sales price of $150,000, the condos tie in granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, as well as luxury cabinetry and flooring. A rooftop patio, community lounge and fitness center also make it appealing for buyers who want a low-maintenance, urban lifestyle, Weigher said.
The short walking distance to downtown restaurants, the riverfront and businesses has been a huge selling point, he added.
“The demand for convenience has gotten higher,” Weigher said. “In this case, you have the architecture of something built in 1909 but with complete renovations. Everything from the plumbing, framing, heating and electric is new, but you’re still within that historical structure. It’s something affordable in a niche market.”
WCI stuck its toe into the higher-end, multi-family market with the redevelopment of two apartments above Little Amps Coffee Roasters at the corner of N. 2nd and State streets. After the units rented quickly, the company bought and renovated Locust Street Apartments, which filled up after just two months, said Lori Fortini, operations manager.
Those one-bedroom apartments average just 650 square feet, but are decked out with high-end finishes, such as quartz countertops, tiled showers with frameless doors and bowl sinks. They also come with central air, a garbage disposal and a washer/dryer—necessities for most urban professionals, Fortini said.
And now that Walnut Court is done, WCI is undertaking its most ambitious project to date, building upon the trend for small-sized luxury. It recently received approval from the city’s Zoning Hearing Board to convert the former Moose Lodge/Ron Brown Charter School in Midtown into 33 one-bedroom apartments that will average 500 square feet each.
Kristine Werley, owner of Urban Interiors, is a design consultant for WCI Partners and has helped attract the clientele who walk into the small living spaces.
Having worked in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, Werley is excited to see something that feels like the big city finally coming to Harrisburg. To help the spaces not feel so small, she is drawn to open concept design, in which rooms flow from one to another without the obstruction of walls to divide the spaces. A large kitchen island and bar stools allow residents to cook, entertain and watch TV all in the same area.
Werley said she tries to use neutral colors so that the eye isn’t distracted in a space. The same style floor through various rooms also makes it flow together, she said. In addition, she blends old with the new, such as exposed brick and modern finishes, as a sort of signature for the apartments.
Werley said she sees the development of luxurious, small spaces as necessary to help recruit and retain young professionals.
“Harrisburg has been trying for so long to attract people,” she said. “If you get the right job here but not the place to live, you’re not getting that full, young professional feeling. We’ve found a way to give people a great apartment for that work-life balance, and they don’t have to pay the prices of a big city.”
As plans for the Moose Lodge project take shape, Fortini sees the perks of smaller apartments across the board.
“The biggest benefit for the city as a whole is going to be for the downtown businesses,” she said. “We’re bringing in people who are in the middle-income to higher wage bracket, making it a win for the city itself as an increase to the tax base.”
While forgotten structures finally get the attention they deserve, and life returns to parts of the city that long have been dormant, Harrisburg seems to be waking up to what younger people are after.
When people can really live in a city—work, sleep and play there—“that’s when exciting things can happen,” Fortini said. “That’s what Harrisburg is ready to offer.”
Disclosure: Alex Hartzler, TheBurg’s publisher, is a principal with WCI Partners.