Thursday, February 13, 2014

Will the LDS Church revitalize Philly more than SLC?

It was announced yesterday that the LDS Church plans to build a 32 story apartment tower in the Center City portion of Philadelphia (hat tip to Marcus). The 258 unit tower will be accompanied by 13 townhouses, a meetinghouse, and retail space (and is set for completion in 2016). The project is being handled by the Church’s for-profit real estate arm, Property Reserve Inc, so it appears to be a financial investment that would also enhance the area around the Philadelphia LDS Temple, which has been under construction since 2011. The urbanist in me welcomes the news of the Church’s commitment to central business districts (well, at least those that have an LDS temple).

By comparison, the City Creek project in SLC resulted in the construction of three separate condo developments (Promontory, which is 30 floors; the Regent, which is 20 floors, and Richards Court ). As of Jan 17th 2014, these City Creek condo units had the following occupancy rates:

105 of 185 units (57%)
2 bedroom units start around $650,000

103 of 150 (69%)
2 bedroom units start around $498,000

39 of 91 (43%)
2 bedroom units start around $688,000

With the City Creek goal being to revitalize downtown SLC, one wonders why they didn't dedicate one of the towers to apartments and/or build more reasonably priced condos. One of the main benefits being that the apartment dwellers would be much more likely to live in SLC full time (and support downtown businesses), as compared to the type of people who are likely to use these units as vacation or winter/summer homes. Considering goals of the City Creek project, the size of the units, and the nature of urban living in general, young professionals would seem to be their target tenant. But considering the ritzy prices listed above, I’m not imagining too many locals are using these as a primary residence. So why build ritzy condos in SLC and apartments for the people in Philly?

Postscript: I forgot to mention the fact that City Creek Landing does have 111 apartment units, where a two bedroom starts at ~$1500/mo. I've called to check, and availability happens rarely, which makes me think the Church could have developed the other three buildings as apartments and wouldn't have had any problem filling them. That's also based on the tight market my wife and I experienced when apartment hunting in SLC. The focus on luxury at City Creek--many 2 bedroom apts in SLC can be had for as little as $800/mo--makes me think that Property Reserve Inc was simply looking to make a large return on its money, rather than the Church trying to pave the way for more local residents to live (full-time) in the central business district.


  1. Could it be that the young professionals in SLC are less likely to be LDS members than the established (possibly downsizing, empty-nesters?) folks who might be enticed to move downtown. The Church probably isn't overly interested in increasing the secular population of the city.

  2. Interesting point. I guess the question then becomes whether the Church was looking to actually revitalize (as imprecise as that word may be) the central business district (CBD) or increase its number of LDS. Even if it's the latter, at the prices those condos are selling at I'm not sure that the majority of LDS empty-nesters can afford it. Most of the SLC east side LDS empty-nesters I've met probably couldn't. And most wouldn't want a 1-2 bedroom condo as a primary residence, what with the often-large numbers of grand kids and all. City Creek residential more looks to be a second home to people like Jon Huntsman Jr and the rest of the jet-set. Which leaves me wondering whether Property Reserve Inc was simply wanting to make a solid return on their investment, rather than the Church wanting to alter SLC's CBD for the better.