At the recent Urban Neighbors monthly social, both the young and the young-at-heart mingled and laughed. No one complained about living downtown or the national economy that has ground to a halt construction of additional downtown housing.
And while many in attendance have about two years under their belts as downtown residents, the consensus was that not only were many thrilled with their new urban residences, they also couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
With a budding downtown that includes Bricktown, Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley and Midtown, many residents find they are within walking distance or a short bike ride from most any amenity they might need " an idea often foreign to those in the suburbs.
The only request many have now is more diverse retail downtown, a few more things to do in the evening and better public transportation.
LIVELY, URBAN AREA
Holly Shelton, 31, lives in the Deep Deuce neighborhood and works downtown at the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. After growing up in Yukon and then living in Norman as a student at the University of Oklahoma, she wanted to live in a lively, urban area. She took a chance on downtown more than two years ago when many of its housing options were just coming out of the ground.
"Quite honestly, I didn't know if I would stay around Oklahoma City, because I always saw myself living in a downtown area that didn't exist in Oklahoma City," Shelton said. "When I saw all this happening I decided, 'OK, I love Oklahoma City and they've really created something downtown that's exciting.'"
Quickly, she found she was part of a community, becoming fast friends with neighbors who were her age or younger, and even some old enough to be her parents.
She also found she was the envy of friends who lived in the suburbs. After dinner or a movie downtown with friends, they would have to hop in their cars to drive home, while Shelton was just a short walk from her apartment. She estimated that about 80 percent of her time is spent downtown.
At 51, Trey Holmes has a few decades on Shelton, but he also chose to live downtown a couple of years ago. He and his wife, Linda Marshall, sold their home in Wetumka to start a new adventure in Oklahoma City " specifically, downtown.
The couple first rented an apartment at the downtown Legacy at Arts Quarter to see if urban living was all it was cracked up to be, before purchasing a condo at Sycamore Square on the west side of downtown in July. Before moving to Oklahoma City, the couple was 20 miles from the nearest Walmart, but they now enjoy their new life in a smaller space and the ability to walk to dinner, drinks, movies and baseball games.
"We walk everywhere," Holmes said.
Holmes, Marshall and Shelton each fit demographic groups outlined by urban planners as the primary market for downtown dwellers.
As local developers began planning downtown condo and apartment projects in the last five years, they hoped to lure millennials and empty nesters. Local and national research backed up the idea that those in their 20s and 30s and likewise those eyeing retirement would make up the primary fabric of new urban dwellers.
Last year, Laurie Volk, a national expert on "new urbanism" and co-managing director at New Jersey-based Zimmerman/Volk Associates, told an Oklahoma City audience that, nationwide, the primary market in coming years for new urban housing was millennials, currently in their teens up to their early 30s, and baby boomers creeping into retirement age. Volk's research found that those two groups had a similar desire to eschew the suburbs for a smaller space in an urban area with ample amenities and entertainment options in close proximity.
Downtown OKC Inc. conducted a study in 2005 that looked at what type of housing was needed downtown, and who would be the most likely residents. Four years later, Kim Searls, marketing director for the organization, said a look at new downtown residents shows much of that research was spot-on.
"It named those empty nesters and that 30-something urban, hip group living here," she said. "Now we have a great mix of people living downtown."
A look at several residential projects downtown that were completed in recent years shows a healthy mix of those just starting out and those winding down their careers.
When Grant Humphreys officially welcomed the first residents to his Block 42 condos in the Deep Deuce area last year, there were young couples, retirees, empty nesters and his own wife and children.
Pricier options, like the Brownstones at Maywood Park and The Centennial in Bricktown, have generally drawn those a little older with a higher net worth. Apartments, like the Park Harvey, Legacy at Arts Quarter and the Deep Deuce apartments, have provided an option for those who want to live downtown, but don't have the income to pay for a condo priced at several hundred thousand dollars.
Searls said while much of the market for the high-end product has slowed for now, there is still a need for more affordable options for younger buyers and renters downtown.
Shelton and Holmes are settled into their respective domiciles and have few if any complaints about downtown, but both said the one thing downtown needs is more diverse retail. Neither was discouraged by the lack of a large downtown grocery store.
As developers began slating projects for the area, many hoped a Whole Foods Market would follow. With no major grocery store in the pipeline, many residents make do with a short drive to the Homeland on N.W. 18th Street or the Walmart Neighborhood Market at N.W. 23rd Street. Sage Gourmet Café & Market in Deep Deuce opened earlier this year with a market featuring staples like milk and bread, plus specialty groceries and imported delicacies.
DOWNTOWN GROCERY STORE
Many downtown residents and Urban Neighbors members like Brett Price would welcome a downtown grocery store, but have been content with trips to Homeland and Walmart to keep their cupboards and refrigerators stocked.
Residents have also voiced their desire for better public transportation downtown and applauded the downtown streetcar proposal in the MAPS 3 vote, which passed earlier this month.
With empty units still on the market and others with buyers trickling in, Shelton is not deterred and sees a bright future for downtown residents. Now that she's there, the idea of leaving is almost unheard of.
"I can't imagine living anywhere else," she said.
Holmes and Marshall also look forward to many years downtown.
"We never see ourselves leaving," Holmes said. "Kelley Chambers