If there are more people living downtown, the thinking goes, they will naturally want to eat, drink and shop in places close to their homes.
Dearborn, Michigan is a textbook example of how brownstones have sparked business growth in that city’s downtown.
There are 80 such units in west Dearborn and 160 in east Dearborn.
A second phase in west Dearborn is one floor ranch housing for accessibility for older people, like empty nesters wanting a downtown experience, a trend among aging Baby Boomers throughout North America.
“We think people living in the district helps stimulate vitality and additional activity and it helps to support all the other businesses,” Dearborn economic and community development director Barry Murray says.
Target groups are “millennials or young professionals.”
“These folks are coming in with less of an interest in driving their cars everywhere they need to go,” he said.
“They like to be more in an urban situation, they don’t want a really big living space.”
The homes vary in size – 600-900 to 1500 sq. ft.
Murray said downtown living is an “important recruiting tool” for the area’s employers like Ford Motor Co.
“They’re always competing for talent and sometimes our communities haven’t been as amenity-rich as I think some of (our urban) competitors.”
Other types of residential, like mid-rise eight to 12 storey loft apartments or condos, have had success in Detroit communities like Royal Oak and Birmingham. and he’s hoping they also come to Dearborn, a plan curtailed by the Great Recession.
Murray said the townhouses are so popular – he himself lives in one – that there is a waiting list.
Have they spurred business growth?
“Oh absolutely,” he said.
“In the last year I think we’ve had 15 new businesses open in the west downtown and most of those are some kind of food or entertainment or combination.”
But, he admitted, only a couple of retail shops have opened.
That may be a reflection of the fact the huge Fairlane Town Center shopping mall with 200 stores is nearby.
However, Murray said, “but for a relatively small number of downtowns these days I think retail is about the last thing to come.
“I think it’s easier to get restaurants and entertainment, hotels, things of that nature.”