Timing is everything for Dr. Daniel Whitson.
Growing up in Gainesville, he doesn’t remember many good apartment options. But they began showing up when he graduated from medical school and returned this year to start his 5-year residency in general surgery at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
“I was ecstatic to find out that these were here,” Whitson said of The Mill at New Holland off Jesse Jewell Parkway. “Being close (to the hospital) is huge and this (surrounding) commercial area is extremely convenient.”
Developers and real estate watchers tend to agree that the renters at upscale apartment complexes moving into the Gainesville area, with monthly rents starting around $1,500 and pushing into the $2,000 range, are well-heeled young professional singles and couples, millennials bypassing home ownership (at least temporarily) and retirees.
Many residents at The Mill are in the medical field and about 10% are retirees, said Colin Gillis, vice president of acquisitions for Passco Companies LLC, which owns the 284-unit complex that opened in 2020.
It’s “an entire gamut” of faces, Gillis said, but a common thread is the desire for on-site amenities, such as a pool and exercise room, as well as granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, units with garages and other niceties.
“We have self-employed, older retirees who want maintenance-free living and some who are younger folks attracted to glitz and sizzle,” he said.
Gainesville-Hall County businesses and health care providers “are recruiting talent to relocate to this area for executive, managerial and professional roles,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
“Our growing health care community and the Graduate Medical Residency program are good examples.”
Both those programs are vibrant, with NGMC trying now to get the city of Gainesville’s approval for a 12-story addition to its Gainesville campus. The hospital got approval recently for the two-phase project, with the final vote by Gainesville City Council coming later.
“An urban apartment can be attractive for the location, (as well as) the no-maintenance and the appeal of living in a charming, walkable urban area,” Evans said.
That’s Greg Powers’ hope for Solis Gainesville, a mixed-use development featuring 223 apartments and 10,000 square feet of space for restaurants and retail. Construction is moving quickly on the 6.8-acre complex on the southern end of the bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway.
He said he doesn’t expect “a whole lot of families here,” but more of “the young professional and someone who works downtown in giving them an option that’s never existed before.”
“These (apartments) are different from anything else we have in the city,” said Rusty Ligon, Gainesville’s community and economic development director. “This is something we wanted to see, coming out of the 2015 master plan that we did. People said, ‘We love downtown, but there’s no place to live at all. So, we’ve been fortunate to see these units get planned and come out of the ground.”
There are other downtown apartment projects in the works.
Gainesville Midland off Queen City Parkway is a 214-unit project, approved in August by the Gainesville City Council. Features may include a rooftop clubroom, business center, coffee bar, fitness center, resort-style pool, pet spa, bike storage, indoor mail and package storage room and dry cleaning lockers.
William Norris, representing Marietta-based McNeal Development LLC, said Gainesville Midland, which hopes to open by late summer 2023, hopes to also draw potential residents from Brenau University.
He especially noted Brenau University’s Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling, which is planning to locate on the second floor of the $22.4 million mixed-use Gainesville Renaissance being developed on the square.
Norris said the complex also should benefit from the growth of NGHS and the residency program.
“Professionals have a desire to live in Gainesville,” he said.
Another downtown development is a 144-unit apartment building as part of The National, a $30 million, multi-use project taking place where the old Regions Bank once stood on Green Street.
Jonathan Collins, president of Capstone Property Group, which is developing The National, said the company did a market study showing a huge demand for luxury apartments, with a 99% occupancy locally among top-end units, often referred to as Class A, and the still nice but not-quite-the-luxury Class B apartments.
“And many (complexes) have waiting lists,” Collins said.
The demand is driven by a few factors, with rapid job and population growth key among them.
“Those move-ins have been priced out of homeownership,” Collins said. “There is not a starter home world as we know of. Ten years ago, you could build a subdivision and have $150,000 homes in there. The cost of land and regulation, permits and construction materials has driven that $150,000 homes to a minimum of $250,000 and $300,000.
“All that job growth and population growth has got to go somewhere. That has caused (people) to gravitate toward apartments. Households with $75,000 income can’t afford $400,000 houses. They’re looking toward $250,000, which doesn’t exist anymore.”
Renting “doesn’t involve any huge down payment, and there’s no maintenance costs or keeping up yards,” Collins said. “Empty-nesters are seeing the same value as (younger buyers), so we are seeing two converging, massive population groups that, to a large degree, are seeking that easy amenity-living in an apartment complex.”
Peach State Bank & Trust President Ron Quinn said that “even though the apartments coming in (have) higher-price rents, they’re probably still cheaper than someone trying to save up for a down payment.”
Evans said that “renting before buying is not a new strategy for newcomers to learn about the local real estate market before making a long-term commitment.”
He added, “However, in this housing market of limited supply for sale, renting an apartment may offer a better option for relocating talent to get here, establish themselves and take more time searching for a home to purchase.”
The boom in upscale apartments isn’t confined to Gainesville. South Hall is seeing huge growth.
The Crest at Flowery Branch has opened off Phil Niekro Boulevard in Flowery Branch and The Atwater at Flowery Branch has opened off Martin Road at the Flowery Branch-Oakwood border. And construction is well underway on a 342-unit apartment complex off Hog Mountain Road across from Cash Road and next to Flowery Branch High School.
There is a difference in the markets though, with Gainesville having more of an urban feel and South Hall more suburban, Evans noted.
“There is also a difference in the cost of development, the density and the rents required by the developer,” he said. “Downtown Gainesville offers a very walkable urban environment, but that comes at a higher cost in the land and the additional costs of vertical construction and parking.
“Garden-style apartments that you might see in less urban centers typically feature amenities like a community center, swimming pool, playground, tennis courts and green space. Those amenities are often left out of higher density urban developments because of limited space, but those features may be available within walking distance.”
Gillis singled out Solis’ location as ideal, saying he believes “that development is just going to crush it.”
“That will probably give us a little bit of heartburn for a little bit,” he added, “but I think it will probably be differentiated enough, and there’s so much demand, that we both can co-exist.”