Is downtown living right for you?

Many a night, Sam Hartman came home to his 650-square foot Midtowne Crossing condo, threw down his work bag, hit the shower and was out the door and headed to meet friends at either a bar or restaurant — all within walking distance.

It was the perfect lifestyle for the 31-year-old realtor. “I did my living outside of my four walls,” he said.

Downtown development in Fort Wayne took off a dozen years ago with the expansion of the Grand Wayne Center, the building of Parkview Field, the rise of the Harrison and Ash Skyline Plaza, the renovation of the Anthony Wayne Building into condos and the introduction of Midtowne Crossing.

Apartment buildings like Randall Flats on Pearl Street have taken over old buildings, and places like City Scape Flats add new living options to the city’s hub.

With the increasing retail and eating options downtown, as well as yoga studios, bars and even an dance school, it’s becoming a place where young and old alike want to get their urban fix — or to just be in on the action.

“The momentum of downtown brought me down there,” said Hartman. “Plus, the ease of living in a condo like this is awesome for a single guy. It was great for a lifestyle on the go, having low maintenance and always knowing what was happening in the city.”

While numbers might not show the whole story, some real estate experts say there are already signs that downtown development is tweaking the Fort Wayne market, which has always traditionally been strong on the northeast, northwest and southwest sides of town.

“I feel like it’s starting downtown, and it’s going to be downtown,” said Lynn Reecer, president and managing broker of Reecer Properties in Fort Wayne. “People are starting to display high-end flips in the downtown area, and someone just sold a condo in the Anthony Wayne Building for over $600,000, which we believe might be the most a condo has sold for in Fort Wayne’s history.”

A thriving downtown will only help the city’s real estate market. Every area in town can see a boost in home values with a thriving downtown. So while it’s not totally changed the market yet, downtown and its prospects are definitely having an impact on the market.

“Obviously, if you have a robust downtown, it helps your entire city,” said Jeff Thomas, co-owner and vice president of Oakmont Development, which develops communities throughout the area. “We figured it would happen at some point, and now that the city and a lot of partnerships have come together to develop things that attract people to downtown, people are going there.”

While some of the new developments may be geared toward Millennials like Hartman, many of the living options are out-pricing what those in their mid-20s or early-30s can afford. Experts are seeing Baby Boomers and empty-nesters who are downsizing moving downtown.

“We’ve seen a lot of movement in places like Sycamore Hills and Chestnut Hills where people are downsizing,” said Jack Patton, executive vice president at Reecer Properties.

Hartman, though, sees many his age trying to remain close to downtown even when looking to buy a home.

“A trend for Millennial homebuyers is the areas surrounding downtown. [I think] the circle of neighborhoods that have urban access are seeing a resurgence.”

Some experts see the same thing. Younger families buying their first homes are looking at areas just outside downtown or maybe a few miles away in Southwood Park. That area, the 46807 zip code, as well as a few nearby, were in the top 10 areas as far as housing units sold in 2016, according to an analysis by Reecer Properties, and are likely to end up in the top 10 again for 2017.

These houses are typically older but, so far, still affordable in the $90,000 to $120,000 price range, and come with sidewalks and plenty of street lighting.

“I feel like we have sold a lot of young professionals, first-time buyers homes in Southwood Park,” said Reecer. “A lot of young people who grew up here might have never been down there, and I’ll take them to the area and they just love.”

After being a downtown resident for several years, Hartman has put his bachelor pad up for rent and is moving but, just like others his age, he’s staying close. He and his fiancée recently moved into a 100-year-old home near downtown, escaping the condo life for something a little bigger.

“Where we live now, we can put a kid in a bike carrier and be downtown in 10 minutes,” said Hartman. “We can still go have a drink or be involved downtown, and we’re in a great neighborhood. I think the Millennials are really desiring this urban culture and that access.”

So even if they can’t quite live in the heart of the city, more and more are keeping it at least within arm’s reach. And realtors are taking notice.

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