Throwing Shade

Will Coast millennials ever be able to afford downtown mixed-use living?

JUSTIN MITCHELL

jmitchell@sunherald.com

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ANITA LEE/SUN HERALD
Developers are planning a mixed use space that will include retail shops and apartments or office buildings in the Markham Building in downtown Gulfport.
ANITA LEE/SUN HERALD Developers are planning a mixed use space that will include retail shops and apartments or office buildings in the Markham Building in downtown Gulfport.

There are some apartment complexes near downtown Gulfport. There's one in Old Town Bay St. Louis. And one in Ocean Springs is just down the street from the hum and bustle of Government Street.

All of those apartments are fairly affordable -- young professionals who pursued a career on the Coast to be close to home or moved here for a job could probably rent a unit if one were available.

But what about being able to afford to rent in the up-and-coming and rather elitist mixed-use development coming to the Coast?

The International Council of Shopping Centers defines mixed-use as planned integration of a combination of retail, office, residential, recreation or other functions. It contains elements of a live-work-play environment.

Downtown mixed-use areas are walkable. People can live, eat, work and play in the same neighborhood -- important for a thriving downtown. But mixed-use developments are few and far between in South Mississippi. In Bay St. Louis, many shops and eateries are nestled close to beach homes, and the few mixed living options are quickly rented by those wanting to live near the action. In Pass Christian and Long Beach, the apartments built above a few businesses have a substantial price tag.

Pass Mayor Chipper McDermott told the Sun Herald in December he hoped the apartments going above the Asian Paradise restaurant, Thou Art Gallery & Gifts and The Purple Pelican would be rented to out-of-towners looking to have a more-permanent weekend getaway space. He noted New Orleanians "aren't afraid to spend good money for rent."

In Ocean Springs, an exquisite apartment above a line of businesses -- which takes up the entire third floor, and could easily have been four or five lofts -- is on the market for $5,000 a month. Real estate broker Kimberlee Williams told the Sun Herald she's looking for a "certain clientele." In fact, a doctor used to live there.

In Gulfport, a promised Markham Hotel rebirth could mean a hotel or condos -- but what will the price tag be?

Mixed-use spaces create downtown areas where people can live, spend money and shop. As a young professional, I would love to be able to afford a small loft above a restaurant in downtown Gulfport or a nice apartment I could share with a roommate in Ocean Springs. It would be great to be able to walk to dinner and then bounce across the street for a nightcap. But unless you make a certain salary, that just doesn't seem like a possibility in South Mississippi.

In downtown Biloxi, there are tons of vacant buildings, and that would be prime real estate for small, economically efficient units for young people to rent. If I could walk to Zeppelin's or the Fillin' Station, that would be pure bliss.

Maybe Coast millennials are tired of living in rental homes north of Interstate 10 or apartment units that all look the same. We want to be part of the downtown revitalization, but we need the chance. I want to live downtown, but I'm stopped by the steep price tag. Will something ever give?

Are there any options I'm not aware of? Share your thoughts: Send me an e-mail and let me know what you think about mixed use living.

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