By Karen Richards
Luxury apartments. A walkable downtown with a busy nightlife scene. An easy commute to Manhattan.
Ask any young professional what draws them to a city in our region, and you’re likely to get answers like these. And around here, Stamford, Connecticut and White Plains fit the bill.
Statistics show that millennials are moving to those cities. The American Community Survey data published by the U.S. Census Bureau shows an increase in the 25-to-34-year-old populations of each between 2000 and 2013. “These are cities that have started building downtown,” says Alexander Roberts, executive director of think tank Community Housing Innovations. “Millennials are attracted to the urban-style living.”
In downtown Stamford, the population increase was 20.37 percent, outpacing other cities in the state. In White Plains, the population grew by 1.09 percent for 25- to 34-year-olds, primarily in the downtown sector.
The populations of both cities have increased primarily in downtown areas, where apartment houses, rather than single-family homes, have been built. Stamford’s population grew by 6.17 percent, but in the city’s 06902 zip code (downtown), the increase was 20.37 percent.
Similarly, White Plains’ population of 25- to 34-year-olds grew by 1.09 percent between 2000 and 2013, but gained 27.89 percent in the 10601 zip code (downtown).
But as cities work to attract viable taxpayers, which city is more likely to win out? The U.S. Census Bureau projects that millennials will increase to 75.3 million by the end of this year, becoming the biggest population group in the country. The City of Stamford is going through a re-birth, with new residential development and a transformation of two major neighborhoods downtown and the South End waterfront, all geared toward millennials. White Plains went through its renewal in the late ’00s, focusing on appealing to empty-nesters looking for luxury condominiums, high-end restaurants and nationally known retail shops.
As Stamford, Conn. goes through a massive construction boom, it’s revitalizing its waterfront to attract young professionals who want to live, work and form a community in one common, walkable neighborhood.
About 20 Fortune 500 companies have offices in Stamford, including hedge funds and investment firms, affording this demographic the opportunity to make the high salaries to afford this luxury. White Plains has Fortune 500 employers to attract young professionals including PepsiCo and ITT Corporation. The Platinum Mile, the nickname for the four mile stretch off Interstate 287, is home to numerous corporate businesses. Go downtown and you’ll find a mix of retail, hospitality and a smattering of corporate parks throughout the area.
Through mixed-use buildings, millennial-focused businesses and a city-vibe with a small-town feel, Stamford has established a certain cool factor. But White Plains never had to. It’s a comfortable close second to New York City, and the default location for people who want both a city scene and suburban comforts.
“We lived in White Plains and didn’t like it,” says Sandeep Aulakh, 32, who lives in Stamford with his wife and six-month-old son. He says with limited open space and too many franchises he didn’t like the quality of living. “In Stamford there’s parks, walking and exploring to do.”
That’s not to say you won’t find people in the 25-to-34 age group living in White Plains, enjoying the restaurant scene and entertainment. Briana Costa, a 27-year-old law student who grew up in Mahopac, is enamored with everything it has to offer. “It’s definitely the place I think of as the next big city outside of Manhattan,” she says.
Getting millennials to notice
The non-plan is in contrast to other cities around the region, which are focusing hard on new development and branding to change with the times. New Rochelle is paying Nashville marketing firm North Star Destination Strategies $68,000 to develop a strategy to promote the benefits of the city to potential residents and businesses. Yonkers has spent $350,000 for its Generation Yonkers ad campaign, working on branding its city as a place for millennials. Peekskill sought bids for a marketing program as well, but postponed the matter due to higher-than-expected costs, its mayor said.There’s no official strategy to attract young residents to White Plains, says Kevin Nunn, executive director of the White Plains Business Improvement District (BID). But the organization has made certain quality-of-life improvements to make living here easier. “We haven’t done anything specific to attract millennials, but we’ve revitalized the school system and made the City Center more friendly and accessible,” he says.
White Plains, though, has the one thing that every real estate agent will tell you is the most important: location. “You have it all here if you want to access it, and you are so close to the city,” says Nunn.
Stamford is getting branding help from Daymon Worldwide, a local marketing firm doing pro-bono work to attract millennials to the area. The city is focused on bringing this group in, and is making it easy for developers to build the kinds of apartments that appeal to young professionals. Private developers, in cooperation with the city, have brought $6 billion in new residential and commercial development to the downtown area in the past five years, including a $3.5 billion investment by Building and Land Technology (BLT), which is responsible for the 82-acre Harbor Point project. And yes, they have a branding campaign. The slogan for the Harbor Point neighborhood of Stamford is “Live, Work, Play.”
The BLT buildings give residents easy access to downtown, public access to the water and services and perks like dog sitters. Businesses want you to stay close too, offering an advantage discount card for their residents.
Residential and commercial buildings are not that far apart, but it’s not that easy to get from place to place. Pedestrians need to worry about heavy traffic, wide roads, hilly terrain and big government buildings to get around. Plus, there’s no one public square or natural landmark, like waterfront, to give the downtown a distinct focus.
Still, some buildings, like City Place in the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester are very close to most shopping and restaurants. “I like that everything is right here,” says Samantha Hirons, 25, who moved to White Plains from Martha’s Vineyard to work (and live) at the Ritz. “I feel a lot of people will move to White Plains because it’s the main Westchester town.”
Short blocks and pedestrian-friendly walkways make it easy to stroll around the city, but there is also a free trolley to get to and from major destinations, like the Avon Theatre, public library and shops and hip restaurants. Stamford’s apartments are also very close to local services, including grocery stores and dry cleaning.
“Last summer it really started to look great, like a real neighborhood,” says Ted Ferrarone, chief operating officer of BLT, which runs the free trolley. “We wanted to create a place where you can do it all here.”
Stamford native Nicole Marino, 34, thinks the changes are good. “It’s got a city vibe but a small town feel,” she says.
Stamford Downtown, the Business Improvement District for the city, studied the changes. “A downtown like this couldn’t exist without the residential base,” says Vice President John Ruotolo. “It brings life to the street.”
Aulakh, who used to live in White Plains, enjoys the local shops and outdoor activities. “It’s not as fast paced here in Stamford,” he says.
According to Karen Pasquale, senior adviser to the Mayor, 1,400 new rental units have been completed in the last two years. An average rent for a two-bedroom luxury apartment built after 2000 is $3,255 in the city, and the vacancy rate is 3.5 percent, she says. “White Plains has always been an attractive city to young people, Mayor Roach has encouraged the creation of more residential units in our downtown core.”
“I can’t build these buildings fast enough in White Plains,” says David Mann of Lighthouse Enterprises, who is building his sixth rental unit in the area. He finished his Waller Street building in March, and it was fully rented by May, to mostly millennial tenants.
The lobby with dark woods, leather seating and a picture of Bob Dylan point to a level of cool sophistication. “You feel nice being here and comfortable,” he says. “Millennials are looking for value and a nice product.”
Costa, 27, lives in the luxury building The Avalon, which has amenities like a 24-hour concierge, fitness room and private library. “I wanted a grown up building and wanted something real,” she says. She loves the convenience to Manhattan and proximity to entertainment. She’s heard about Stamford, but considers it too far from Manhattan to be on her radar.
Stamford is a former industrial town, known for manufacturing dyes, stoves and locks, but old factories have been razed to make way for tony apartment buildings, like Yale & Towne, named after the former lock business. Four to five new buildings are going up each year in the downtown and South End neighborhoods, on Tresser Boulevard and Summer Street.
These apartments look and feel like vacation getaways, with amenities like 24-hour concierge service and free daily water taxi service from Harbor Point Marina to Stamford Landing.
“No one has ever seen this product before, it’s more West Coast than East Coast living,” says Economic Development Director Thomas Madden. “There’s been such a pent up demand for rental units.” A typical two-bedroom apartment is priced at $3,130, and the vacancy rate is 4 percent, he says.
One building, 75 Tresser, offers downtown living with the most luxury amenities in the area, “We get mostly first-timers looking for life on the go,” says Community Manager Jennifer Gartner.
The spacious lobby is inviting with Starbucks coffee brewing and countless perks like a WiFi cafe and plush media room. Each apartment has a balcony that looks onto a courtyard. The building is 87 percent occupied.
The more friends a tenant makes, the more likely they are to stay, explains Gartner. The building also holds regular happy hour parties, which keeps the residents connected.
Plus, there are incentives like a free month’s rent or gift-cards to attract new residents. “They are earning a lot and they are discerning customers,” she says.
Julia Ayres, 27, moved to 75 Tresser from Manhattan. “They have excellent amenities, expensive, but I love Stamford.” She works at RBS, a investment bank, in Stamford, and is right at home with the outdoor pool, fire-pits and outdoor living her luxury building provides. “I work right around the block, the apartments are big and it’s quiet.”
Go and Do
Take a walk down Mamaroneck Avenue, the main drag for bar hopping and millennial spotting. Casual spots like the Brazen Fox and Elements, attract a younger crowd enjoying a variety of beers on tap in a casual after-work setting. If you are in the mood for something more adult, you’ll find a sophisticated set at the high end places including BLT Steakhouse, 42 in the Ritz-Carlton or Lilly’s, a new tapas spot.
You’ll also find a range of shopping in White Plains from high-end shopping centers like The Westchester to mid-range malls like The Galleria. There are department store icons like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. There are least 11 gyms in the area, bike lanes and a new parking app that makes finding a spot to leave your car easier. Pasquale says White Plains has worked to bring in amenities like Zip Car and electric vehicle charging stations; plus created bike lanes and new parks aimed at younger residents.
It’s described as the unofficial capital of Westchester, and seemingly the only option if you are a 20- to 30-something year old single person living in the county. Costa has found her community of millennials in White Plains. One of her favorite spots is The Brazen Fox on Mamaroneck Avenue. “I found a group of friends here, and even two people got engaged,” she laughs.
She likes the bars and restaurants lining Mamaroneck Avenue, and points to specific differences between the various places. “They’re all types of bars and entertainment here to choose from,” she explains. And for people looking for more cultural events before and after a drink at the bar, there’s Arts Westchester.
Janet Langam is the CEO for Arts Westchester representing 120 arts organizations in the county. “I think millennials are looking for experiences,” she says. Langam says their mix of art, music and cultural events number about 70 this summer. They’re betting on big events like Arts Bash, where they open their building on Mamaroneck to show 15 artists’ work, and the September Jazz Fest. “New work is part of our strategy to show it’s a place that’s still hot,” Langam explains.
Because White Plains is a complex and diverse city with a mix of people and age groups, millennials may have to do some work to find their particular group. The city is more spread out, but there is a social vibe on Mamaroneck Avenue.
“There’s so many opportunities to meet people in White Plains,” says 25-year-old Samantha Hirons.
In Stamford, the entertainment is more fluid. New areas for entertainment are constantly popping up, from bars and restaurants on Bedford Street to the South End waterfront with arts festivals and yoga events.
Despite organized activities by the buildings, plenty of young people meet up walking to any of the corporate offices that are based in the immediate area, including Indeed.com, RBS and NBC Sports. There’s also a string of restaurants lining Bedford Street, full of outdoor activity in summer and fall.
In Stamford many apartment buildings organize social events for residents, but it’s easy enough to stumble upon other millennials no matter where you go: the waterfront, trolleys or just walking around the city.
Stamford millennials are generally from somewhere else according to the U.S. Census. They come primarily for work and some for school, and with the recent development boom of 7,600 new rental units they appear to be coming to work and live.
“Now I’m close to Bedford Street, the bars and restaurants, I can actually hang out with my friends after work,” Bunce says.
Marino, the Stamford native, likes the upgrades to her city but knows they don’t come cheap. “New York City bars are coming here so I think it’s a great thing, but it’s getting way more expensive for people my age.”
Restaurateur and millennial Christian Petroni, who was once a chef in White Plains, is opening another branch of his popular restaurant Fortina to Harbor Point. Petroni, 31, is building his first Connecticut restaurant with his partners after opening restaurants in Armonk and Rye Brook.
The Stamford location is bigger, with a mezzanine and rooftop area, and slated to open in September. “We really believe in this project and its future,” he says. Not only is he building here, but he also just moved to Stamford. “It’s exciting, a cool area with waterfront and walking areas. I look out on my balcony and see a view of the city.”
Metro North trains run every 5-to-15 minutes along the Harlem Line to Grand Central during rush hour, taking anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes, depending on the train. Driving to Manhattan is 43 minutes by car (without traffic, of course). Apartments buildings offer parking starting at an extra $100 per month, depending on the property. But walking and biking are your best bet. Samantha Hirons is from Martha’s Vineyard and says getting around the city is fairly easy. “It’s really convenient; I sold my car as soon as I moved here.”
Metro North trains run every 3-15 minutes along the New Haven Line to Grand Central. It will take you 49-59 minutes to get to midtown Manhattan. Driving to Manhattan is 55 minutes without traffic, but there’s always traffic on Interstate 95. Buildings offer parking at roughly $100, with some offering one free space as a new-tenant incentive. Your best option is walking, trolley and biking. Kevin Bunce moved from New York to Stamford after getting burned out from the daily commute, and decided there was enough in Stamford to keep him busy after his work day. “As long as the job stays, I’ll be here,” he says.
So where will millennials eventually settle?
Both cities can boast good entertainment choices, an easy-to-find community, convenient access to Manhattan for commuters and thrill seekers, and upscale housing.
But millennials say they want luxury with no strings, and aren’t looking for a permanent residence. In that case, either city can accommodate, and it’s hard to know which will win or lose the battle for millennials.
“Maybe 30 years ago it was a dream to own — now millennials think, ‘Why should I buy and tie myself down?’” says Mann, President of Lighthouse Enterprises.
Hirons, who lives in White Plains, she’s ready to move if the mood strikes.
“Once I know I’ve hit my peak I’ll go,” she says. “It’s not somewhere I want to stay.”