If you want to live downtown, the city hopes to make it easier.
Builders until now have needed permission from the Planning Commission for homes or apartments downtown. The City Council at its meeting Tuesday afternoon voted unanimously to do away with that rule.
“We’re just trying to make downtown living as easy as possible,” Urban Development Director Greg Pietrangelo said. “For our downtown to grow — to create a thriving, walkable community — we have to have people living downtown.”
Pietrangelo estimates fewer than a dozen people live downtown south of the railroad tracks, but more living space is on the way.
Financing is in place, and engineers and architects are drawing up plans for the landmark but derelict Markham Building. Virginia attorney Robert Lubin, who arranged financing, has said preliminary plans include 64 luxury apartments, possibly with a restaurant on the first floor.
Councilman Ricky Dombrowski, who represents Gulfport’s waterfront, is embracing downtown living, too. Earlier this year, he bought the old Anderson Menswear building on 14th Street. He’s looking for a commercial tenant for the first floor. Dombrowski and his wife, Missy, plan to live on the second floor for at least a year or two.
Eventually, he said, they will build another house and rent the downtown space. Meanwhile, they’re going to enjoy Mardi Gras parades and Cruisin’ The Coast from a balcony. Dombrowski is preserving the building’s historic touches, which include exposed brick and heart pine floors. He’s installed a wooden door with beveled glass in the downstairs entrance, where “Anderson’s” remains tiled into the threshold.
“I just think it’s cool,” Dombrowski said. “Just about everybody that walks by says, ‘Y’all are going to live upstairs? I would love to do that.”
Pietrangelo acknowledges current apartment spaces are above the income range of many millennials, who show a particular enthusiasm for downtown living. New Orleans developer Vincent Marcello is renovating the old Cadillac Building on 27th Avenue with apartments planned for the third and fourth floors. Again, though, the adjective “luxury” is tacked onto the living space.
Pietrangelo said renovation costs on the old downtown buildings can be high.
“There is space on second and third floors in a lot of the buildings downtown,” he said. “It creates challenges for the building owners because you have a lot of life-safety issues you have to deal with. It takes a creative person who understands and knows how to jump through those hoops.
“The challenge in downtown, especially an emerging downtown like ours, is it’s an older downtown, but it’s truly in its infancy as far as what downtown can be.”