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Virtual Housing Starts Decline
City Center () - After several years of solid growth in new housing announcements, ONB is finally reporting a cooling off on virtual condo and loft starts. "We had a great run there for about two years." said ONB President Michael Calvert. "We had some virtual project or another to report on in almost every issue of Synergy [the ONB newsletter]." In fact Synergy has been quick to report on almost every virtual project of the last few years including appropriately Synergy Realty's City Federal plan, Bayer's Pizitz building project, Corporate Realty's The Standard project, and several New Ideal building project proposals.

The newsletter even began reporting on smaller virtual and some actual developments when it became clear that headline making project announcements were becoming less frequent. Sadly, however, in the latest issue the only mention of any kind of new housing is in the Fountain Heights neighborhood, not technically part of the City Center Master Plan that ONB has been working so hard on.

Several issues appear to have slowed the growth of virtual loft and condo developments. For one, existing residents report difficulty getting their groceries to the car from MedTown pharmacy without being hit up for cash. "And once I get in the car, I don't want to get out when I get to my loft," said Dominique Quipan. "If more people would move down here, maybe families with children that could walk to the park, I wouldn't feel so isolated." Calvert echoes Quipan's concerns and likens it to the chicken-egg dilemma. "We were hoping to achieve a critical residential mass so that things like restaurants and grocery stores would follow," said Calvert. "But maybe we need somewhere to shop and eat in the city center before people will come. However, that just doesn't fit with the model of how traditional urban living develops."

Another issue seems to be the dearth of daring young professionals, empty-nesters, and gays available in the mostly conservative Birmingham metro area. "I think that market [traditional loft dweller] may be tapped out," said Calvert. ONB hopes that the demolition of several more downtown buildings, including the Birmingham News building, will provide the spark needed to get people downtown. "The current parking situation is just atrocious," Calvert said. "I think with more parking the city center will be a much friendlier place."