PMI Sunday Reader: Meeting the New Urban Renter at the Local Brewpub
Introducing the PMI Sunday Reader, where we take a break from our usual multifamily and rental housing reporting and present stories from a more personal perspective.
You can meet some interesting characters at the neighborhood bar, and every now in then you find someone who makes the conversation over beer worthwhile.
Such was the case in Denver a couple of weeks ago at one hangout on touristy 16th Street. Turns out, the brewpub is also a place where locals go for a microbrew and to watch sports. We visitors just sometimes fill in the crowd.
I dropped in one evening to get a bite and watch Texas Christian University play its College World Series game against Virginia. I’m not a TCU alum, but claim the Horned Frogs because I took an online grant writing course there a couple of summers ago, as silly as that may seem. Plus, I like purple.
The elderly gentleman, Jack, sitting next to me at the bar sipped quietly on a brew and ate a wedge salad. Every now and then he let out a silent cheer for Virginia. We soon began chatting (he later told me Virginia was his alma mater), and turns out he is one of the regulars at the brewery. I didn’t get the impression that everybody knew his name, but the bar tender recognized him and some others who would gather later.
Making the Move from Suburbia to Downtown
Jack is a retired engineer for a large computer manufacturer and a new urban resident to Denver. He walks to the brewery when his wife, Betty, is out of town. A few years ago, they sold their big house on a couple of acres outside Seattle and moved to their vacation home north of the Mile High City. About a year ago, the lure of downtown living brought them to the inner city, where they bought a condo.
I shared with him my ties to the apartment industry and he seemed only mildly interested that the National Apartment Association’s Education Conference & Exposition was in full swing a few blocks away at the Colorado Convention Center. As much as I wanted to pry into why he and Betty chose to move downtown, how their leasing experience was and try to glean all the things that apartment folk want to know, I held back. After all, we are talking about a man’s castle, and that’s sacred ground to some. We Texans understand that barbed wire ethic for sure.
Instead, we bantered about other things and I waited for an opportunity to learn more how he was adapting to that new Manhattanization of America thing.
When he asked if I went to TCU, I just told him I was from Texas and joked that I was experiencing the chicken-fried lifestyle in Denver by driving around in a four-wheel drive, crew-cab truck. You see, it was the only rental vehicle left in the city, and I needed it to get to appointments in Colorado Springs, Golden and Longmont. Just about every agent in town told me that there was a shortage of rental vehicles because of some recent hailstorms.
“Guess you should have made a reservation?”
“We Texans don’t make reservations,” I told him. “We just hop in the nearest pickup truck and go.”
However, I lamented that navigating the maroon beast through Denver’s downtown streets was dicey and that the daily rental cost was $139.95.
“That’s probably how much it’s going to cost you to fill up, too,” he said with a chuckle. I knew he wouldn’t be too far from the truth.
The Changing Demographic of Today’s Urban Renter
In time, we talked about Jack and Betty’s new lifestyle, which affords them shopping, dining and entertainment within a short walk or stone’s throw of Denver’s light-rail and bus systems. You step outside the building, he said, and the world is at your feet.
So, too, are the Colorado Rockies, who play just a few blocks away at Coors Field. He’s become a Rockies fan, but is a bit fair-weathered. “I haven’t gone to many games this year because I’m mad at them,” he said, craning his neck to another TV in the bar that showed the start of the Rockies game against Los Angeles. “They’re not playing good ball.
He offered up a few negatives about downtown living, specifically the plumbing issues in their building. A persistent gurgling sound from the pipes gets under his skin, and he blames the property owner for building the condos “too fast.”
Other condo owners, he said, felt the same way and weren’t shy about voicing their opinions. He also grumbled that the neighborhood lacked a good grocery store and that he and his wife have to make trips every two weeks to stores in the suburbs.
“We kept our two cars, that’s about all we use them for,” he said, shifting his focus back to the game. Dodgers ace Zack Greinke struck out Drew Stubbs to end a Rockies rally in the bottom of the first. “He’s going to give us fits.”
Downsizing from a big house was no big deal, he said. Both he and his wife got rid of a lot of their stuff, so big closets weren’t really that important. “A lot of it was just crap,” he said.
TCU and Virginia went into extra innings and Greinke had the Rockies in a hole early. It was getting late, so I bid farewell to Jack, who kept tabs on both games. On the way to the hotel I thought how he didn’t fit the perception of a dazzling urbanite that lives the high life between skyscrapers. Rather, he is more of an average Joe adapting just fine as part of the new urban demographic of baby boomers and empty nesters who are flocking to the city cores.
I tried to imagine myself one day being in Jack’s shoes; a day later I mentally picked out a mid-rise right across the street from the new-look Denver Union Station.
This could work, I thought. Just can’t have a big four-wheel-drive truck.
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