Student Housing: The Standard Is Rising
Student-housing projects with high-end amenity packages, such as The Standard in Gainesville, are now beginning to rival luxury apartment communities. Landmark Properties president and CEO J. Wesley Rogers explains the details of The Standard’s development and how the company determines the amenity packages for each property.
In recent years, student-housing amenities have become increasingly complex, including everything from coffeehouses to swimming pools to 24-hour fitness facilities. And, thanks in part to these upgrades, student-housing communities have been pre-leasing more rapidly than the rest of the country.
The Standard at Gainesville, in Florida, is an excellent example of this trend of high-end amenities. The 1,200-bed apartment community will boast 1,200 parking spaces, a special VIP floor, two rooftop pools, a cybercafe and a 17,000-square-foot clubhouse, complete with study lounges, gaming rooms, a golf simulator, a racquetball court and a fitness center. It will also offer approximately 65,000 square feet of retail space and a 150-key hotel with its own rooftop pool.
But the high-end amenities of this project are just the tipping point.
“It’s virtually like being on [the University of Florida] campus, so location is the No. 1 amenity for this particular property,” states J. Wesley Rogers, president and CEO of Landmark Properties, developer of The Standard. “You’re also on University Avenue, where all the nightlife is.”
The company currently has 15 projects under development, from The Retreat at Corvallis (servicing Oregon State University) to The Standard at Baton Rouge (servicing Louisiana State University). Amenities vary, based on the market and what it can support, which is why the company can build a high-tier property near a top-10 school, such as the University of Florida, but not necessarily near a smaller market, such as Boone, North Carolina.
Rogers explains: “We’ve got certain development yields that we have to hit. Construction costs have been running on us, so our yields are getting tighter and tighter. If you’re doing a smaller project in a market that doesn’t have really high rents, we’re obviously not going to be able to afford to develop these types of amenities. So we really need to be in an A+ location and a large state school and developing a large project that supports amenities of this scale.”
Amenities offered will also depend on the climate, he notes. For example, the rooftop pools featured at The Standard at Gainesville would not make sense at a property such as the Arborblu, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, because harsher seasons up north would limit the number of months the pool could be used.
“[Our idea generation is] a combination of focus groups — what we’ve seen be successful in other markets — and extrapolating out what we think would be successful in this market, based on the socio-economic profile for these students, Rogers explains.
Resident surveys are administered every six months, with a portion of the questions focused on what amenities residents are using, what they like and what they’d like to see more of. At the top of the list right now are larger, more expansive fitness facilities, followed by cybercafes and group study lounges, none of which the company focused on several years ago.
What’s not hot? Movie theaters with stadium seating.
“We used to do the stadium-seating movie theaters, but the kids weren’t using them,” Rogers points out. “So those are amenities that we x-ed out.”
The company also works with three architectural firms, which might be tapped for additional ideas on what to incorporate for different developments.
Student-housing pre-leasing numbers certainly indicate an interest in these types of developments, but what are students actually saying?
“The students love it,” Rogers states. “They’re wildly popular with the students.”
And their parents?
“Some of them think the amenities might be over the top,” he observes. “And we always hear, ‘Wow, I wish we’d had this when I was in school.’”
Parents are particularly interested in the amenities that involve safety and security, he adds. Elements such as campus proximity and electronic-key access to both units and bedrooms are hits, as are the 24-hour study lounges.
Overall, the company’s amenity packages do tend to outpace their competitors, Rogers notes. But the demand is there.
“We feel like there’s an enormous percentage of the student population that’s relatively price-sensitive, but they want the best,” he explains of the Gainesville market and the expansive amenity package featured at The Standard. “We’re constantly listening to the students, and we’re going to continue to evolve our amenity packages based on what they tell us.”