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Lofty living in Charleston

CHRISTIAN TYLER RANDOLPH | Gazette-Mail photos
Potential loft seekers browse a property at 121 1/2 Summers Street on Wednesday during a Generation Charleston “Loft Walk” event to showcase available properties for purchase and rent in downtown Charleston. The event, which was free to the public, involved a guided tour of some of Charleston’s newly renovated and re-invented loft spaces.
CHRISTIAN TYLER RANDOLPH | Gazette-Mail
The properties loft seekers visited were on Summers Street, Smith Street, Bibby Street and Kanawha Boulevard. The event was part of Urban Living Week.

Although Generation Charleston geared its annual Loft Walk toward young professionals, people from all age groups came to view loft and condo options downtown.

“We usually define young professionals as people under 40, but we aren’t going to judge,” said Tim Gibson, Vice Chair of Generation Charleston.

Dozens participated in the guided tours Wednesday to see renovated lofts and condos on Kanawha Boulevard, Summers Street, Smith Street, Bibby Street and Hale Street. Generation Charleston, a committee of the Charleston Area Alliance, hosted the event in collaboration with Real Estate Central as part of Urban Living Week.

Square footage for each of the 12 properties ranged from 624 square feet to 9,350 square feet, and prices ranged from $89,000 to $1 million. Don Wilson, a Generation Charleston board of directors member, said lofts available downtown were once a secret, but people have been buying more as old buildings in the area have continued to be converted into living spaces.

“There is a diversity in price for what we’re showing, and we have options for everyone,” Wilson said. “It’s possible for anyone to get a space here and enjoy downtown.”

Downtown housing availability for young professionals was the number one issue Generation Charleston wanted to address when it started, according to Caitlin Cook, Generation Charleston’s executive director. She said the event allows the committee to draw attention to downtown housing opportunities and the need for more.

Danni Jones, a 25-year-old Charleston resident, said she went on the Loft Walk because she was curious about downtown housing options. However, she said most of the younger people participating are likely from out of town, and many of the spaces shown would be out of young Charleston residents’ price range.

“You have options when it comes to government housing,” she said of the city’s housing situation. “But otherwise it’s slim to none here.”

A housing needs study released in 2014 by the West Virginia Housing Development Fund said Kanawha County had the highest number of first-time homebuyer loans but the second-lowest potential in first-time homebuyer loan opportunity.

Patrick Bowen, president of Bowen National Research, said at a 2015 event in Charleston that 90 percent of residents in the city are renters and more than 20,000 people commute to Kanawha County, according to a Gazette-Mail report.

However, Phyllis Carpenter, a real estate agent who was a tour guide for the Loft Walk, said the lofts available are a sign downtown Charleston is booming. Chad Stepp, a Loft Walk participant who owns commercial property in downtown, agreed.

“I’ve seen huge trends toward people buying lofts and living downtown,” he said.

The Loft Walk was one of three events scheduled for Urban Living Week. On Tuesday, the Charleston Area Medical Center Foundation and CAMC Employment Center hosted an event at the cancer center about CAMC career opportunities. An Arts and Crafts event will be held today from 5-8 p.m. at Real Estate Central’s Charleston location at 5 Summers Street.

The goal of Urban Living Week is to attract young professionals to Charleston, where the median age is more than four years higher than the national average, per Census data. The city’s population has decreased since 2010 while the rest of the country’s has grown.

Charleston is one of eleven West Virginia cities, including Huntington and Morgantown, where events are happening as part of the nationally recognized Young Professionals Week.

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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