When Dr. Fanta Kasiah accepted a position at Georgia Health Sciences University three years ago, she quickly decided where in Augusta she wanted to live.
“Downtown, of course. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” said the 29-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist. “It’s nice to literally step out of your door and have access to so much – the nightlife, the parades, the Augusta Saturday Market, the fresh vegetables and cashews.”
Many area real estate developers and some downtown apartment dwellers say that Augusta’s downtown real estate property, especially on Broad Street, is in such high demand that there’s not enough available space to keep up with growing interest.
“The demand for downtown housing has been rising nationally, and that’s also apparent in Augusta,” said Yahya Henry, a local real estate broker with Prudential Beazley Real Estate and Ariba Development. “Current downtown occupancy levels are about 98 percent.”
“As soon as we build it, it’s rented,” said Margaret Wood-ard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority of Augusta. She said three apartment projects are under construction that should add about 30 downtown apartment units by the end of the year.
Woodard, who resides in downtown Augusta, said the local attraction for urban living space coincides with a national trend.
“It’s a good place for new (empty) nesters and folks who no longer need swing sets; those who want to relocate to a walkable community. We’ve got great restaurants, museums and theaters. It’s for people who prefer walking and riding bicycles,” she said.
Bryan Haltermann was sold on downtown Augusta’s potential more than two decades ago.
“We have a waiting list of people who want to live in our units,” said the president of Haltermann Partners Inc.
Haltermann’s latest project is at 1130 Jones St., a 100-year-old former auto-repair garage. Upon completion in December, the building will feature four 900-square-foot loft units, each renting for about $850 monthly, he said.
Haltermann Partners buys, renovates, leases and manages commercial buildings in downtown Augusta. Haltermann said he mainly advertises to potential residential tenants through the Craigslist Web site.
Typically, younger clients are the ones who search for rental space using the Internet, he said.
Kasiah rented her first apartment at the JB White Building and later learned of her current loft apartment by using Craigslist, she said.
“Most of my single friends live downtown. Perhaps one day when I’m married with a family, I’ll move to Martinez or Evans. Maybe when I’m 30,” she laughed.
Businessman Coco Rubio is considered one of Augusta’s original pied pipers when it comes to touting the benefits of living and working downtown. In 1995, Rubio envisioned that downtown Augusta could generate enough revenue to help stimulate the growth of his then-upstart lounge, the Soul Bar.
“Downtown is busier than ever,” Rubio said. “School has just started and college students are flocking all over the place. There’s a downtown Athens (Ga.) flavor here and it’s still growing and evolving.”
Mark Dempsey, 23, agreed with Rubio.
“I’ve been here for about three years,” said the Soy Noodle restaurant worker. Dempsey said he enjoys the convenience of living in the one-bedroom loft apartment above his place of employment.
“Importantly,” said Dempsey, “I save lots of money on gas, because I mainly walk everywhere I go.”
Haltermann leases Broad Street retail properties to Sae Shin, the owner of Soy Noodle House, and Bobby Morrison, who co-owns Metro Coffee House with his brother Kenny Morrison.
The Morrisons are in the process of opening an upscale restaurant-lounge next door to their existing business.
“We believe in downtown,” Bobby Morrison said.
Haltermann describes the young businessmen as nouveau entrepreneurs anxious to ensure that downtown Augusta continues to grow. “I consider them as my partners,” Haltermann said.
Shin said he’s noticed a steady increase in customers since opening his doors in 2009.
“I look for even more walking traffic once the TEE Center opens,” he added, referring to the riverfront exhibition event center expected to open early next year.