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Study: Growth in Center City Likely to Persist
Date: 10/11/2005
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Study: Growth in Center City Likely to Persist
By Henry J. Holcomb
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Center City's population boom is being fueled by demographic groups that are getting larger - so there's no end in sight to the growth.

That was the message that Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District, touted in his agency's annual analysis of housing trends, released yesterday. By 2010, Levy said, Center City could have 110,000 residents, which would be up from 73,121 in 1980, 78,000 in 2000, and an estimated 88,000 today.
The biggest growth has been young adults who do not yet have children and people over 55 whose children no longer live at home.

If current efforts to produce a "dramatic improvement in Center City schools" succeed, Levy said, these growth estimates could prove conservative.

The Center City District, a municipal-services and economic-development agency, began tracking housing trends several years ago to help plan improvements and attract restaurants and retail that would make the downtown area more attractive to its new residents.

The boom started in 1997, when City Council and Mayor Ed Rendell approved 10-year property-tax abatements to promote conversion of a growing number of vacant or underused old office and manufacturing buildings. Two years later, the tax break was extended to new construction.

By the end of this year, 8,235 residential units will have been developed in Center City since the tax break was enacted. An additional 3,574 units are under construction, all scheduled for completion by 2008, Levy said.
Across the Schuylkill, University City, a smaller geographic area, is also booming. More than 550 housing units have been added since 1998, and 400 units are under construction, said Meridith Sauer, research and planning director at the University City District.

In Center City, 110 vacant or underused buildings have been converted. Few conversion candidates remain, so growth is shifting to new construction, mostly condominium projects, Levy said.
The tax break has fueled growth, but because Center City already had a large population, only about 5 percent of its dwellings are covered by the tax abatement.

The trend is to larger complexes. The last 13 completed averaged only 25 units. This year, the average project will grow to 40 units, Levy said. Over the next three years, the average size is forecast to be 118 units, with several complexes of 200 to 300 units.

The proportion of Center City residents in the 25-to-34 age group has doubled since 1970 to 30 percent. Surveys by Levy's staff indicate that 70 percent of this group have a college degree and 86 percent have no children.
With rising fuel prices, longer workdays, and a growing disdain for time-consuming commutes, Levy said, the demand for housing in Center City will remain strong for at least a decade. Vacancy rates will remain low, and rents will continue to rise, he said.

It is time to quit worrying about when it will end, he said. "Energy needs to be focused on improving the quality of the environment... to work on improving parks, playgrounds and other amenities to fulfill the high expectations of these highly mobile new residents."

Levy said Center City neighborhoods were taking the first steps by hiring consultants to design new lighting and to plan park improvements.

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