BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
Chic. Hip. Trendy.
These are the words that come to mind when one pictures living in an urban downtown. Surrounded by high-rise buildings, eclectic architecture and nightlife — it’s a young sophisticate’s dream.
And it’s available right here in River City.
Downtown, right on the riverfront, a short walk to the courthouse, with stunning views — it’s the hip and happening place to live in Lafayette.
And if you want to be part of it, brace yourself: There may be a wait.
Destination of choice
When Ben McCartney and Cathleen Campbell moved to town in 2018, downtown was their preference on where to live. McCartney actually grew up in West Lafayette. But after being away for several years living near the East Coast, he and his new wife decided they wanted that urban feel.
“When moving to Lafayette, Cathleen and I were hoping to embrace what small-town life has to offer,” says McCartney. “For us that meant walking to work, walking to church and walking to our favorite restaurants and hang-out spots.”
It’s been a perfect fit for the two of them; McCartney walks to work at Purdue University, and they’ve found their niche with places to eat downtown. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Convenience and charm
Proximity to bars and restaurants plus the ability to walk places are all reasons given for opting to live downtown, says relocation specialist Faye Cole of Lafayette Relocation Services.
“Part of it is just the charm of living downtown,” Cole says, “A lot of my clients are younger people. They love to be able to walk to bars and restaurants, and they don’t want to risk getting a DUI.”
Downtown culture is a big draw, says Kelsey Talbot, property manager with W.H. Long. Adding to that, the allure of the uniqueness of the architecture makes it a desirable place for young professionals to get their start.
“The downtown market is hot,” she says. “The proximity to campus without being on it, that’s a really big draw.”
Plus, she says, people are attracted to the historic buildings.
“The exposed brick, the character of these buildings,” she says. “You don’t get that everywhere. The corner units with downtown views — people really like that aesthetic, being in the heart of things.”
Yet it’s not just young people who opt for life downtown.
“We see all walks of life in terms of ages and lifestyle,” Talbot says. She sees graduate students who want to be near campus, but not right in the heart of the undergraduate party scene, which can be a little loud and rambunctious. She also sees Purdue faculty and professionals who travel frequently, thus they don’t want the upkeep of a house and a lawn.
“Downtown draws a lot of different people in; so many people are here for different reasons.”
Arts and culture at your fingertips
Part of the attraction of living in downtown Lafayette is the proximity to entertainment, arts and culture.
For some people, it’s the convenience of being able to walk to so many restaurants and bars. And the options don’t disappoint — downtown Lafayette is home to more than 20 eateries, with food options from hamburgers and pizza, Italian, sushi, pub fare and high-end dining with fine wines. Plenty of these restaurants offer patio seating for warm weather dining. And for people who live just up the block, these all come without the hassle of searching for parking.
And for others, it’s access to performances and nightlife. Downtown Lafayette is home to multiple art galleries, which open their doors several times each year to host downtown Gallery Walks. Many bars offer live musical performances by local bands. And regular performances by local performing arts groups are featured downtown, including Civic Theatre, the Lafayette Master Chorale, the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra and the Tippecanoe Chamber Music Society — all of which perform in downtown theaters and churches.
The Long Center for the Performing Arts and the Lafayette Theater both bring in outside programming, an eclectic variety of shows geared toward audiences of all ages.
There are multiple houses of worship downtown that also are easily accessible. Fun and funky gift shops, antique stores and bookstores — locally owned — offer fun for both buyers and browsers alike. The county library is convenient. And from May to October, the downtown farmers market offers shopping for high-quality food items from local vendors.
Downtown festivals are another big draw. The aforementioned Gallery Walks keep downtown alive on Friday evenings throughout the warmer months. Mosey Down Main Street, designed to highlight upper Main Street, also draws crowds, as it features local musical performances and eateries. The annual Taste of Tippecanoe features multiple stages with live performances and dozens of local restaurants. Lafayette’s giant Independence Day celebration also is downtown, with fireworks being lit from the pedestrian bridge over the river. And come December, the Christmas parade and Dickens of a Christmas bring a fun and festive holiday air — again, right downtown.
Downtown residents get to take part in all of these celebrations and activities — again, minus the frustration of looking for parking. It’s a perfect mix, says Talbot.
“You’re a part of downtown but not right in the middle of it,” she says. “You still have some quiet and serenity when you want it.”
For some young people, being right in the midst of things is a lifestyle choice. Talbot finds that a lot of her younger clients are committed to living more sustainably, to buying local and living in a community they know well. For them, downtown living means they drive less and frequent businesses with whom they have a relationship.
“Buying local, supporting small businesses,” she says. “You see that familiar face — it makes you want to go back and be a part of it.”
Options for living
Just like the people who live downtown, the downtown residences are not all the same. From quirky lofts to high-end luxury apartments, downtown dwellings come in all shapes and sizes.
Many apartments are part of buildings that are around a century old. For example, the historic Schultz Building, 216 N. Fourth St., is a mixed-use building with businesses on the main floors and apartments above. An older building, the units feature high ceilings with an urban loft feel, some with exposed brick and vents and tall windows, giving a panoramic view of downtown. The apartments vary, from studio to two bedrooms, anywhere from 460 square feet to nearly 900. They all come with renovated kitchens with a dishwasher, garbage disposal and microwave. Plus, each unit comes with in-unit laundry facilities.
Contrast the older architecture with the Marq apartments, just a few blocks away on Second Street. The Marq is brand-new construction with more of a luxury high-rise ambience. The apartments have private balconies, walk-in closets, in-unit laundry and garage parking. Upper floors have stunning views of the Wabash River.
Multiple other complexes are scattered throughout downtown, from the Lahr Apartments — a former hotel — to Renaissance Place, across from Riehle Plaza. And all over downtown are various apartments hidden above shops and storefronts, all with a variety of floorplans and amenities.
For some people, worrying about parking might make living downtown a bit intimidating. Talbot says there are places to rent a space that are affordable. And Cole, whose office is downtown, says the lack of parking downtown is exaggerated.
“The perception is there’s no downtown parking,” she says. “In my experience, I can always find a parking space within one block of where I’m going,”
Plus, with the Connector Bus, which runs between downtown and Purdue University every 20 minutes, it’s easy to get from one place to another.
Safety might be a concern for some, with downtown areas generally having a reputation as being a bit more gritty and edgy. Also not true, says Cole.
“There is no place in Lafayette/West Lafayette I wouldn’t park my car and still get out and walk,” she says. “We’re still a better community than most of them.”
And for people who might rent in a building that does not offer standard amenities such as laundry and workout facilities, those places are all available downtown, just a short walk.
If living downtown sounds like the perfect fit for you, be prepared: Vacancies are few. Talbot says there is a waiting list, with most places near capacity.
“In the last two years, prices have shot up,” Cole says. “There’s beautiful new construction, but it’s executive housing. Affordable housing will soon be lacking.”
For McCartney and Campbell, living downtown has proven to be exactly what they were looking for.
“Downtown Lafayette has so much going for it that it’s been super easy to live mostly on foot,” McCartney says. “And with new restaurants — and the spring — just around the corner, we’re excited to continue to live downtown!”