Kensington Hotel

THE KENSINGTON has well over 50 apartment units and was known as the only place to live in downtown Norfolk until the late 1990s.

Downtown Norfolk has been reshaping itself over the past decade with the redevelopment of restaurants and businesses. As the area grows, the demand for living in downtown Norfolk continues to increase.

Downtown Norfolk has a history of people living in the area starting with the Kensington in 1926, located in the heart of downtown Norfolk.

Originally a hotel, the Kensington has well over 50 apartment units and was known as the only place to live in downtown Norfolk until the late 1990s.

But in 2015, that was about to change.

On top of business buildings along Norfolk Avenue, apartment units started popping up, expanding all the way down a stretch from 13th Street to First Street.

In 2016, Russ Wilcox and Real Estate Solutions Team began working on apartment units above Haven Hair Salon and Spa, along with The 411 Restaurant.

Two years later, people were able to live in the apartments.

"When we built these units, we anticipated that our demographic would be the young professional, young couples, students, and we built them to suit that demographic," said Wilcox, owner and real-estate consultant of Real Estate Solutions Team. "We wanted to create the ‘work here, live here, play here’ environment."

The 11 residential units have filled up quickly over the past two years, with one unit still available.

Wilcox and other building owners are taking the risk of using the main floor of a building for commercial space with apartments upstairs.

Another residential live space, Elkhorn Lofts, is located on Norfolk Avenue above District Tap & Table.

Elkhorn Lofts has three apartment units out of the 124 total existing units in 2019.

"There's a lot going on here in Norfolk, and there's a lot of growth opportunities," said Dirk Petersen, retired general manager of Nucor Steel in Norfolk and owner of the building. "We're seeing a lot more people here in Norfolk, and we're getting a lot of notice across the state that Norfolk is doing things right."

There isn't any more availability in Elkhorn Lofts, but in 2019 there were 15 more proposed units in the downtown area, along with a potential of 23 units for the upper level of buildings.

The one-time Kensington hotel now has 53 residential rental units, with four commercial rental units on the main floor.

The Kensington is owned by the Norfolk housing agency and has two current vacancies.

The historic building is still located on corner of Fourth Street and Norfolk Avenue, the hub of downtown.

"It's very beneficial for the tenants based on the number of nonvehicle tenants," said Gary Bretschneider, executive director of the Norfolk Housing Agency. "It's a very good location with downtown restaurants, and there are stores to shop. It is a good opportunity for everyone."

Right on the outskirts of downtown Norfolk, there is even more residential living spaces in the Commodore Apartments and Skyline Apartments.

With the revitalization and excitement of downtown Norfolk, be on the lookout for more apartment units popping up around the area as Norfolk continues to grow.

"Downtown living is critical to a downtown's success. In recent years, it's been gratifying to see the high level of private investment made in repurposing upper levels of historic downtown buildings for living space,” Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning said. “This meets a broader market demand of people — both of younger and older adult demographics — wanting smaller living spaces in dense, walkable neighborhoods, proximity to shopping, dining and other entertainment.

"For community development, there are many positives. Otherwise unused space is made productive, historic buildings are preserved, existing infrastructure is utilized and the proximity of people to retail shops benefits both. The upward swing in new, high-quality downtown housing is one we encourage and are working to continue to develop."

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