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
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.
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.
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
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.