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Downtown living: Urban Exchange sets a new course for Downtown Harrisonburg

Story by Chris Graham

Harrisonburg leaders have a vision for how to make their downtown thrive. Barry Kelley is helping bring that vision into a reality.

“I know downtown pretty well. And I thought this was the perfect area for the kind of project that we were thinking about doing,” said Kelley, who with fellow property developer Andrew Forward has turned a Downtown Harrisonburg parcel that was most recently a used-car lot into a four-story, mixed-use architectural wonder called the Urban Exchange.

The 194 condominiums in the Urban Exchange, located on Market Street in the heart of Downtown Harrisonburg, represent about a third of the number of housing units in the district, a number that Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, the city downtown-revitalization program, has been working to augment since it sprang to life six years ago.

“From our founding, one of our goals has been to encourage and promote downtown living,” Downtown Renaissance executive director Eddie Bumbaugh said. “The rationale is if you live downtown, you’re more likely to shop and dine and attend events downtown.”

About 70 percent of the condos in the Urban Exchange have already been rented out, said Scott Rogers, a broker with Coldwell Banker Funkhouser Realtors.

There is also 12,000 square feet of commercial and retail space available in the development. The focus in finding suitors at the outset is on locating a restaurant and perhaps a retail store or two that could be a good fit for Urban Exchange residents.

“We’ve had inquiries from people who would be using it just for office use. Which is fine, and that would be a suitable use. But it wouldn’t necessarily be as much an amenity for the tenants, and that’s what our hope is,” Rogers said.

Bumbaugh hopes the success of projects like Urban Exchange spurs more mixed-use downtown developments with significant residential components in the future.

“The character of Downtown Harrisonburg is changing rather dramatically over the last several years. Housing is a key part of that. Once you have people living downtown, not only restaurants, but other retail, will follow,” Bumbaugh said.

“Some communities have started with their revitalization saying, We want to attract more retail immediately. It’s very tempting to do that, and it’s not that we didn’t work in that direction. We thought that housing and getting events and restaurants and having more of a urban vitality is important to set the stage for retail. Now we’re starting to see the retail interest because we’ve got the residents and the downtown businesses to support them,” Bumbaugh said.

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