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Downtown property owner Jason Murray recently unveiled the $1 million renovation of 11 additional lofts in the Artifacts building on Olive Street.
Downtown property owner Jason Murray recently unveiled the $1 million renovation of 11 additional lofts in the Artifacts building on Olive Street.

Tenant interest picks up in center city

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In recent months, several downtown property owners have seen an uptick in activity as commercial and residential tenants take root.

Sam Freeman is one of the landlords who is busier these days. Freeman, a owner/broker with Center City Realtors, is overseeing renovations at two of his longtime vacant properties: 137 Park Central Square, next to the former Mister Furniture store, and 225 W. McDaniel St., with South Campbell Avenue frontage next to Nathan P. Murphy’s.

Filling vacancies
Freeman said his Park Central Square space has been empty for a couple of years, as he was holding out to see what would happen with the Heer’s building across Park Central West before deciding to renovate. He now has a new tenant, Downtown Clothing Exchange, preparing to move in.

“Things are really, really fun and thriving downtown right now,” said Freeman, whose McDaniel Street building will be home to The Creative Foundry.

In the last two months, Boca Mocha Coffee & Café, Blu Sesame Asian Diner and Takeout, Side by Side Dessert Lounge and Kiss My Gas Scooters have opened shop downtown. Also preparing to hang out a shingle are Harbell Sports Bar & Grill, 315 Park Central West, and Herba Thea, 220 S. Campbell Ave.

Property owners also point to some promising signs on the residential front. Freeman, the leasing agent for Wheeler Lofts, 401 South Ave., said 10 of the 12 spaces there are full, and he has prospects for the remaining two. He said five doctors are among the tenants.

Jason Murray, owner of nine downtown properties that serve mostly residential tenants, in June unveiled a roughly $1 million renovation of 11 loft apartments in the Artifacts building, 520 W. Olive St. With monthly rent ranging from $895 to $1,500, each of the new lofts is leased, Murray said. The building already had 11 lofts, and Murray renovated the space formerly occupied by Insight Solutions mailing service after its lease expired last year.

Murray said he’s been encouraged by the activity in recent months and hopes it will help keep his roughly 100 loft apartments at their current 100 percent occupancy. His brother, Scott Murray, owns the building that houses new tenant Boca Mocha, 320 Park Central West.

“I’m really excited to see more businesses come to downtown. That’s great for everybody,” Jason Murray said. “I’m just hoping downtown continues to draw more and more customers, both commercial and residential.”

As someone who is heavily invested in the area, he seems somewhat relieved that the Heer’s building plans fell through. He said the more than 60 lofts that developer Kevin McGowan was promising would have increased competition for space.  

“I think downtown’s going to do great with or without the Heer’s building,” Murray said, adding that the addition of the Bistro Market and other businesses, such as Gelato Mio, have brought more character downtown. “There are so many neat places to go to.”

Tenant perspectives
Janina Hargin is taking her 2009 fashion design degree from Missouri State University into the real world, opening the Downtown Clothing Exchange in Freeman’s building on the square. With an opening scheduled by September, she signed a two-year lease for $1,250 per month, and she’s using a $25,000 loan through the city’s Small Business Development Loan program to cover her startup costs.

The 1,300-square-foot shop will sell used and vintage clothing as well as works from local artists produced from recycled materials. Hargin said picking a space on the square was intentional.

“I love the atmosphere of downtown, I guess. It’s more artistic,” said Hargin, who is planning a grand opening during the Sept. 2 First Friday Art Walk.

Jim Michels, a co-founder of The Creative Foundry LLC, is bringing his shared office project to 325 W. McDaniel St. The 3,000-square-foot facility will offer work space for independent professionals and entrepreneurs. The idea is based on the “co-working” concept, which promotes a community-based open working environment and has been popping up in urban areas across the country. A group in March opened a similar office, 519 Office Share, at 519 E. Walnut St.

Michels, who relocated from New York seven months ago when his wife took a marketing job for the Darr family of companies, was looking for a way to bring together entrepreneurs when he learned about the concept. He has funded the $5,000 venture up to this point and said Creative Foundry memberships range from $100 to $250 per month, with one-day passes available for $10.

He said 10 people have signed up through www.meetup.com, and the space could hold up to 30 people. Michels said several local landlords offered discounted leasing rates to support the idea before a group of the participants decided it liked the downtown site best. The space is being leased for $1,500 per month, Michels said.

He said he believes this concept will be most attractive to the 25- to 35-year-old demographic, and the downtown area is perfect for those young professionals.

“The dream is to have a loft downtown, shop at the Bistro Market and walk over to the co-working center for your office,” said Michels, a self-described journeyman with a passion for bringing people together.[[In-content Ad]]

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