Hear “downtown loft” and words like hip, modern, stylish and sophisticated likely come to mind. The spots for center-city living in Central Alabama are all those things, but they’re also indicators of strong urban cores.
More people living or staying downtown means more people shopping, eating and playing downtown too, and vibrant downtowns are key to healthy cities. Montgomery has enjoyed diverse array of loft options downtown for almost 20 years. Prattville is joining the action with its new project, The Mill. And while Wetumpka is just dipping its toes in, it’s still making a splash with a development designed to augment the small city’s big tourism boom. Take a look inside some of the lofts turning heads and catalyzing continued growth in our area’s downtowns.
“We believe (and hope) these projects serve as a magnet for Montgomery’s youth,” said Golson Foshee concerning Foshee Residential Management’s role in downtown loft development. Today, the company owns and/or manages nine loft properties in the heart of the capital city, but it all started in the mid-2000s, when FRM agreed to manage some of Montgomery’s first downtown lofts. “Sam Adams developed the Gun Store and Icehouse lofts and asked us to manage them,” Foshee said. “When I was growing up, living downtown was not an option, and my family’s company has been in real estate development since the 1970s, and we had no plans to venture downtown, but we liked his vision and so we said yes.”
It was the right answer. Those lofts worked, so in 2009, FRM developed a few of its own. “We really believed in being a part of the revitalization of downtown. We felt like that was the way we could help our community prosper and thrive, and the city needed more choices for residential down there, so we put our own equity in,” he said. Today, Foshee is proud of the trailblazing mark his company’s lofts have made on the city. “We helped prove there was a market for lofts downtown,” he said.
Foshee Residential Management loft properties downtown
- 22 Monroe Lofts (currently being converted to condos)
- Adams Ave. Flats
- The Historic Bell Lofts
- District 36
- Perry Street Flats
- Printing Press Lofts
- The 40 Four Building
- The Gun Store Lofts
- Icehouse Lofts
To the Point:
Darryl Washington, the City of Montgomery’s Director of Economic Development, claims lofts and more living options downtown are key to the city’s continued momentum. “Increasing residential density is essential to creating and creating a vibrant and economically sustainable downtown. To accomplish this, a strategic approach is needed to fill the housing void through a variety of housing options including apartments, duplexes, condominiums, lofts, garden homes and other middle housing offerings,” he said. “Our new Downtown Montgomery Action Plan speaks to the necessity for increasing affordable and mixed-use housing options downtown.
The circa 1947 Grove Court apartment building on the corner of South Court Street downtown is in the middle of a transformation that will return the abandoned yet architecturally significant building (it’s one of only two International Style structures still standing in Alabama) to its former glory while adding updated amenities. The redevelopment project is wrapping up the design phase and will begin more demolition and the remodel soon. At completion in summer 2024, Grove Court will house 45-50 apartments for both long-term leases and short-term rentals.
Goodwyn Mills Cawood architect Freddie Lynn and contractor Webb Smith own Bridge & Hill Holdings, and the company’s first project, the transformation of a 1950s-era corner building in downtown Wetumpka, was just completed last October. The Lofts at Bridge and Hill now features seven short-term rental units with 3,000 square feet of restaurant space on the ground floor awaiting a tasty tenant. In planning stages, the units were to be long-term leases, like standard loft apartments, but after “Home Town Takeover” started filming in the city, those plans shifted.
The popular HGTV show aired in spring 2021 and featured renovation experts and small-town enthusiasts Ben and Erin Napier giving Wetumpka’s downtown area a facelift. The spotlight it put on the city brought a wave of tourism that had city leaders looking for ways to increase lodging to meet the demand. “We’d been thinking of loft apartments for the space, but the city and Chamber gave us the idea of doing lodging instead,” Lynn says. While they are zoned as short-term rentals, they can be rented for up to six months and still be within the city’s rules.
The Lofts at Bridge and Hill contains seven total units, six on the top floor, one on the ground floor behind the restaurant space. Two of the top units boast balconies, and they all have a contemporary design and sleek décor, as well as kitchenettes. For the restaurant, Smith and Lynn are still searching for the right fit but have several prospects. “We want something lively, something that really contributes to downtown and complements the other dining options in area,” Lynn said.
To the Point:
Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis noted the need for The Lofts at Bridge and Hill. “As Wetumpka continues to become a destination, it’s critical we have places to sleep our guests. It puts feet on our streets and allows more shoppers for our merchants,” he said. And he stressed the aesthetic appeal of the property. “The balconies of the Lofts overlooking the streets offer the comfort and charm of a magical downtown,” he said.
Prattville has experienced a rapid expansion in the last decade, with a lot of commercial growth along Cobbs Ford Road, right off I-65. But the community’s downtown has seen growth too, and The Mill, a new loft apartment development on the edge of downtown, is giving one the city’s most historic structures a second act. The Mill’s units are housed in the circa 1848 Daniel Pratt cotton gin complex, which consists of five historic masonry structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ashley Stoddart, Community Manager of The Mill, explained the significance of restoring and re-using the structure. “This was a special project as it not only provides more customers for downtown businesses to financially grow, but we have also added housing as well as breathed new life into a historical structure that is integral Prattville’s progress,” she said. The first building is set to open in early February, with the next phase scheduled to open by the end of this summer.
The Mill offers 127 residential units (with 60 unique floorplans and some as large as three bedrooms) all with character to spare, thanks to the preservation and incorporation of many of the buildings’ original architectural details ─ exposed brick walls, wooden support beams and oversized windows that take full advantage of the views. Amenities include covered parking, on- site management, fitness center, picnic area, gig internet speed and more.
To the Point:
According to Stoddart, The Mill’s economic effects will be felt by downtown businesses of all types. “We have no doubt we will fill up in a short amount of time,” she said. “This will also have a high impact on the downtown Prattville shopping and restaurants since it is within walking distance from the property; businesses can expect a lot more visitors.” Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie, Jr. knows more people living in his city’s downtown will bring additional energy to the current buzz, but he’s also excited about The Mill from a personal perspective. “As a person who lives and works downtown, I look forward to having many new neighbors enjoying our downtown because it is the amenity.”