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Housing opportunity

For a developer of student housing, the numbers are encouraging.

At the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, enrollment was 24,700 in 2010. Now, it’s 25,300.

Although that’s only a 2 percent increase in enrollment, developers, sensing opportunity, are already planning to add at least 400 more apartment units near the university in three projects.

Walden Station clubhouse. Rendering courtesy of Brown Investment Properties, Inc.

In another project, which is not yet under construction, Austin, Texas-based Aspen Heights wants to build a 150-unit complex that would share the company’s name. Before Aspen builds the so-called “cottage apartments,” it is trying to get about 22 acres rezoned.

In the third project, which also is not under construction, Charlotte-based Crescent Resources has announced plans to build the Circle at UNC-Charlotte project near the College Downs neighborhood. Plans call for Circle to have 200 apartments.

Some real estate industry officials are not surprised by the plans for more student housing.

“Student housing is definitely a burgeoning and emerging successful business model,” said Ken Szymanski, executive director of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. “The bottom line is it is profitable for the developers.

“Enrollment continues to rise at the university, so the overall supply and demand of rental housing in the university area comes into play.”

The profitability, Szymanski said, stems largely from a popular method of renting to students: having them sign a lease per bedroom rather than per apartment.

“They’re getting over $2,000 a month per apartment as a result,” Szymanski said.

Over the past three years, national apartment associations have begun hosting special meetings and workshops on building student housing and the practice of leasing individual bedrooms, according to Szymanski.

“It is very much a growing part of the apartment business,” he said.

Brown Investment Properties plans to use the new method of leasing at Walden Station. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment at Walden Station will run $810 a month, while two-bedroom apartments will be rented for $660 a month per bedroom.

But for all of that rent money rolling in, Chester Brown, the company’s president, said there are tradeoffs when it comes to student housing.

“It is a much more intense as far as management when compared to nonstudent housing,” he said. “You are providing all the utilities and all the furnishings. And, with student living, there is much more going on with what we need to monitor.”

In other words, where college students live there’s a high probability of late-night parties and general rambunctiousness.

While Walden Station will be geared toward the college set, Brown said nonstudents would be free to call the place home — if they dare.

“If you’re not a student, I wouldn’t see you wanting to live there,” he said. “But you can if you want to.”

Brown said the project is expected to cost about $8.5 million and is being built by Greensboro-based KMW Builders. Walden Station will be less than a mile from the western side of UNCC’s campus.

He rattled off the names of restaurants and stores near the Walden Station project, including a Starbuck’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Food Lion, and added that having those businesses within walking distance of the apartment project will make it appealing to students.

“And the light-rail extension that is going to come north will stop at the intersection of J.W. Clay Boulevard and North Tryon Street, so we’ll be about 1,000 feet from that,” he said.

Indeed, UNCC’s growing student population has led to more retail space being constructed near the university in the past four years, said Andrew Jenkins, an analyst with Charlotte-based research firm Karnes.

Since 2008, Jenkins said, about 650,000 square feet of retail space has been added to Mecklenburg County’s northeast retail submarket, the area that includes UNCC. That accounted for 25 percent of the 2.6 million square feet of retail space added to the county between 2008 and this past June, Jenkins said.

“The Ikea at Belgate and the University Pointe Walmart … accounted for nearly all of this new space added in the northeast submarket,” Jenkins said.

Mary Hopper, executive director of University City Partners, a nonprofit economic development group that focuses on the area around UNCC, said more student housing projects will likely spring up, because the university can only house about 25 percent of its students on campus. According to UNCC’s website, 4,932 student live on campus. The rest are expected to find apartments off campus.

The addition of apartments within walking distance of UNCC wouldn’t be a bad idea, she said, adding that it’s not easy to park on the campus.

“I always laugh when I explain that every student comes to campus with 1.2 cars,” she said.

Students won’t be able to move into Walden Station, Aspen Heights or Circle at UNC-C this fall. The soonest any of them will open is fall of 2013, when Walden Station is expected to begin housing students.

Aspen Heights could open by the fall of 2014, and Crescent Resources has not announced an opening date for its project.

Those three probably won’t be the last student housing projects to be added to Charlotte, Szymanski said, adding that he expects at least two to three more to be built as UNCC’s enrollment grows.

“There are about five student housing communities around UNCC, and so there is likely room for around three or four more due to the enrollment increases,” he said. “That is a very successful business model in terms of the revenue. And the parents are usually the ones paying the freight, because those parents have been saving for college for a very long time.”

BAUGHMAN can be reached at scott.baughman@mecktimes.com

AT A GLANCE

Three student housing projects have been announced for the area around the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where enrollment has been growing.

 

Walden Station

Apartments: 96

Status: under construction; 2013 opening planned

 

Aspen Heights

Apartments: 150

Status: needs rezoning for 22 acres; 2014 opening planned

 

Circle at UNC-Charlotte

Apartments: 200

Status: rezoning granted but no opening date announced

Source: Mecklenburg Times staff research

 

HEAD COUNT

Enrollment at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has grown in the past three years, and apartment developers are responding with plans for student housing. Here’s a look at UNCC’s growth.

ENROLLMENT

2010 24,700

2011 25,277

Current 25,300

Source: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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