While the formerly industrial South Avondale neighborhood has been exploding with new restaurants and bars (Fancy’s on Fifth is set to open imminently on the NW corner of 5th Avenue South and 41st Street, above), the clientele of these venues has often seemed less than truly local. Instead they come from the nearby precincts of downtown, Forest Park, and Crestwood–or slightly more distant suburban locales–with the assumption being that Avondale proper isn’t a “safe” place for hipsters, craft beer drinkers and assorted urban aficionados to call home, even if they like to eat and drink there. As it turns out, this isn’t quite true–and may become even less so as pioneering developers respond to increasing demand.
Just east of the 41st Street spine of taverns and cafes, the block bounded by 42nd and 43rd Streets and Third and Fourth Avenue South is illustrative of a changing attitude towards housing. Above looking north towards Third Avenue is the Avondale Apartment project redevleoped by Kahn Properties. Formerly shabby apartments are being renovated for rent to medical residents, young professionals, and others for whom Avondale may not have been on the radar even a couple years ago. Response is brisk and shows that a certain demographic doesn’t mind–and perhaps appreciates–living in a transitional neighborhood still known for low-income housing both substandard and decent (framed across Third Avenue is Avondale Gardens, an award-winning low-income development we helped design about twelve years ago).
On the SE corner of 4th Avenue South and 43rd Street is a vacant and severely damaged apartment complex (above) which is currently for sale. Unsightly, yes–but it’s not hurting the traffic at Avondale Apartments. While an older generation may look at the vacant property and shake its head at “blight without hope,” a younger generation shrugs and sees “future development coming soon.”
On the south side of Third Avenue a collection of older houses lines the street (above). Despite the fact that Third Avenue is also a busy state highway–with too many lanes and higher traffic speeds than a rejuvenating neighborhood deserves–once these houses are even modestly renovated, they have no problem attracting tenants. One local resident who owns a number of rental properties told us that a professional couple recently rented one of these renovated bungalows sight-unseen: they were that anxious to find something decently renovated in the middle of Avondale.
In the end, to develop a critical mass of attractive housing options, places like the Havenwood (above, Third Avenue just west of the bungalows previously pictured) need change. Long a haven for drug dealing and related crime, it is a destabilizing influence on on otherwise improving block. Whether this means a sale, redevelopment, or another outcome is unknown–but our guess is that pressure in the real estate market will force something to happen. It’s just a question of when.
It is easier to visualize the promise of this faded beauty on the SW corner of Third Avenue and 42nd Street (above). Over 100 years old, It is in the process of being stabilized and secured. Having served initially as a doctor’s residence, it followed the pattern of many large houses in declining neighborhoods across the City and became a low-rent boarding house for many years. Now that the boarding house partitions have been removed, and the massive ceilings and elegant staircase structure have reappeared, the possibilities for the future are many.
While downtown itself has been subject only rarely to gentrification conflicts due to the historic absence of housing in the CBD, it is interesting to watch the process unfold in South Avondale. There is a lot of lower-rent housing for people of color; right now the influx of new residents (often white, though not always) has been modest enough that no fundamental balance seems upset. However, as the Zyp bikeshare stand on 41st Street attests (above looking south to Second Avenue), this neighborhood is changing. If the right mix of market and affordable housing joins the newly rejuvenated commercial storefronts, Avondale could demonstrate that a neighborhood of diverse economic, racial, and other groups can truly succeed. Stay tuned.
[Thanks to Fancy’s on Fifth for the mural pic]