Niche Marketing

Developers are attracting the foodie demographic with delicious eats close to home.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if all your apartment units could be above a Whole Foods grocery or an artisan cupcakery? How about next door to Gen Y’s favorite brewery? What if one of your community managers arranged for a food truck festival on the property? Or if your low-income residents received food vouchers to spend at the farm stands located right outside their apartment properties?

Savvy multifamily developers and property managers are harnessing the power of fresh, local produce and foodstuffs, consumer demands for easy, walkable dining, and the rising tide of America’s foodie movement to influence their development and marketing plans. Here’s a look at just a few ways food and multifamily are coming together around the country.

Food Truck Fanatics in Florida

This was no run-of-the-mill poolside community barbecue. At a largely student-populated apartment property in Gainesville, Fla., bringing together 12 food trucks for an afternoon this April resulted in resident fun, great local media buzz, and a handful of new leases. Stoneridge Apartments’ Super Sunday Funday Food Truck Festival wasn’t just a success—it was an epic success.

“We had a turnout of approximately 500 people and our residents loved it. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback as well as requests for more food events like these,” said Denise Snyder, regional property manager, CAM, for The Emmer Group. “The food ranged from awesome cupcakes, to ice cream and doggie ice cream, and there was Thai food, Cajun food and gourmet grilled cheese.”

Snyder had a strong feeling that food trucks would go over well with her residents, and not just because many of them are college students who love to try new things. Stoneridge’s popular Perks Program, which gives residents discounts at local restaurants and other businesses, has been a big success.

Harnessing the power of social media before, during and after the event, word-of-mouth from residents and local businesses drove prospects, friends of residents, and the simply hungry to Stoneridge. Once they’d wandered the truck lineup and sampled some tasty treats, there was no reason to leave—a beer garden was set up on site, next to a lake on the property and under some shade trees. There was live music and a DJ, too. If enjoying such a relaxing afternoon just felt like home, leasing staff was on hand to give a property and unit tour right on the spot. Five apartments were rented based on tours given that day.

“We certainly had a great time with zero hiccups along the way. As for the resident demographic, just make sure they like to eat a lot of diverse food groups!” said Snyder.

Gainesville isn’t the only place in Florida where food trucks have made a big splash. Alliance Residential Company had similar lease-up success with a 10-truck event at its Broadstone—Citrus Village property in Tampa.

Rather than coordinating the event themselves, Alliance’s property site team found it easier to outsource the set-up and marketing of the Next Gen Gourmet Food Festival to a local company that arranges food truck festivals around the city. Since the location of the event is such an important detail for anyone attending such an event, great free publicity followed for the new community, which held its first festival in August 2012.

During the four-hour festival, up to 1,000 people came through. Broadstone—Citrus Village is a neighborhood style development, making it easy for the trucks to parallel park and the streets to be blocked off so people can line up to buy food.

The first event was such a great success that, by resident request, another one followed in spring 2013. And Business Manager Frances Rivera has no doubt that there will be more in the future.

“Since we were just in the latter portion of our lease-up, it was a great way to close it out and get that last boost of traffic. It was a hit. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has this type of set-up, where they have the flexibility to block off the road the way that we did. It’s definitely something outside the box,” Rivera added. And at least a half-dozen leases resulted directly from the event.

Alliance is considering similar events for two properties in South Florida, said Regional Manager Laura Rodriguez. One property, Broadstone—Boca Raton, may station one or two food trucks outside on weekends during lease-up—“just to bring some liveliness to the normal weekend.” Apparently, food trucks are a guaranteed way to do that.

Preserving Historic Affordability at Seattle’s Pike Place Market

When the historic Pike Place Market originated in 1907, it was a line of trucks on the street—owned by farmers who drove to town to sell their fruits and vegetables directly to grocery shoppers. Affordability was instrumental to its establishment—as local lore has it, in the early 20th century Seattle’s grocers weren’t paying the farmers enough for their produce, and those same grocers were also charging consumers too much.

The market ultimately became its own geographic destination, a spread of nine acres that includes 80 restaurants, 200 shops, and dozens of fruit and vegetable stands. There are also bakeries, butchers, fishmongers and artisan food companies. Tucked above it all is low-income housing. Around 350 residents, mainly seniors, live within the market and are supported by social services in the neighborhood, including a senior center, health care clinic, and a food bank.

But until spring 2013, the residents of Pike Place Market—its low income seniors—weren’t making great use of the local fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs sold right outside their doors. Living on subsidized food purchase programs, they simply couldn’t afford it.

“One of the great benefits [of this housing] is that they have direct access to fresh local produce, foods, and food purveyors. One of the challenges we’ve seen is the barrier due to the cost of some of those goods,” said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director, Pike Place Market.

So Seattle city leaders and citywide farmer’s market managers sat down and came up with a plan. They would subsidize the purchase of market goods on a 1:1 basis—up to $10—every day.
Appropriately, the program is called Fresh Bucks.

So, for the residents within the market’s perimeter, healthy shopping is now much more affordable. “Constantly tracking the cost of food, and providing access to fresh food, is something we see in the founding principles of the market,” Franz-Knight said. “From that very beginning in 1907 to today, we’ve been constantly vigilant. Fresh Bucks is another example. Now, we need to continue to maintain that balance.”

Perfectly Positioned in Portland

The clues to what draws residents to The Albert in Portland’s North Williams neighborhood are right out front on the green building’s website. What will life be like while you live there? Here’s a typical day in the neighborhood:

“Grab lunch with friends. Bike all afternoon. Learn how to roast your own coffee. Then chow down and recharge on fresh, locally grown meals by evening. Sneak out for custom ice cream just below you in The Albert’s ground-floor retail shops. Then for a nightcap, head out to catch an indie band at The Box Social drinking parlor, an extra cozy spot to take a load off.”

Not that most prospective residents need to know that. They’re often already hanging out in North Williams, likely at one of their favorite breweries or coffee shops, when they decide to move to where the action is. That’s made leasing easy at The Albert, which has operated at 100 percent occupancy for its 72 units since it opened in summer 2012, and it has a lengthy prospect waiting list.

That list is only getting longer, now that a New Seasons market has moved in nearby. The Albert’s Resident Manager, Yelena Khokhlova, told us that she has residents who signed leases just to be close to the uber-popular grocery.

“A lot of residents have moved in because of the New Seasons. And the neighborhood is growing, with new restaurants and lots of great places to get food and beer,” Khokhlova said. New Seasons, which calls itself “the friendliest store in town,” features events like weekend product tastings, and it boasts privately owned stores, local products, reasonable prices and donation of 10 percent of post-tax profits to non-profit groups.

The Albert is an eco-friendly building, with a gold LEED certification and all energy-efficient appliances. The ground floor commercial spaces include a boutique ice cream parlor, an Italian eatery and a small tap house. Between the thriving foodie neighborhood, proximity to the city’s bike highway and that green appeal, prospects on The Albert’s waiting list may need to exercise great patience.

Glamorous Lifestyle and a Gourmet Test Kitchen

Residents of the new Broadstone—North Boca Village in South Florida, managed by Alliance Residential Co., not only have a resort-style pool (complete with cabanas), massage salon, movie theater, putting green and bocce ball court on site. When they entertain guests in the clubhouse, they’ll be able to hire caterers, who can cook on-site in the 11,000-square-foot facility using an industrial-grade test kitchen fit for a celebrity chef.

In fact, that test kitchen was host to celebrity chefs this summer during the second half of the Broadstone—North Boca Village lease-up. Other featured events popular with residents included cooking demonstrations from popular local restaurants.

Laura Rodriguez, Alliance regional manager for Florida, explained that the amenity was so popular that once word got out in the community about this unusual amenity, restaurants were calling the property to try to book demonstrations.

Video cameras are installed in the range hood of the professional-level stove, with large flat screen televisions behind the chef facing the audience so event attendees can see what’s happening. Though originally intended to be attractive to residents who might want to host big parties or events on site at the apartment property, fostering community connections and generating resident engagement with the kitchen has turned out to be a major bonus.

“All of the lease ups that Alliance is doing in Florida are having these demo kitchens, so it’s something we expect to continue and to get going even on a larger scale,” Rodriguez said. “Our local restaurant owners are more than happy and willing to participate.”

Wholesome Meets Whole Foods in St. Louis

St. Louis isn’t known as a hipster haven, but the city’s developers are gradually embracing the concept of walkable urban neighborhoods. The reinvention of a portion of the city’s downtown, into what’s now known as the MX (Mercantile Exchange) District, leads the way.

Mills Properties was one of the first new developments to open its doors in the MX District when The Laurel apartments began leasing and welcoming residents in fall 2011. The Laurel, a mixed-use property with food and shopping on the ground floor, has attracted young professionals working in the biotechnology and medical field, as well as students attending nearby colleges and universities. A popular local pizza joint, deli, wine bar and a restaurant serving Asian fusion cuisine are a major draw for residents, who enjoy a 10 percent discount on all purchases.

The company has a second mixed-use project in progress that will feature a Whole Foods gourmet grocery on the ground level, and 177 apartments above. City Walk on Euclid will be located in the Central West End, and the Whole Foods will be St. Louis’ third such store. The Central West End has been a popular residential neighborhood since the 1904 World’s Fair, and City Walk residents will enjoy walkable access to restaurants and other amenities.

Mills Properties marketing manager Melissa DeCicco anticipates that the market’s widespread popularity will make walk-up leasing of the City Walk apartments as convenient as popping into Whole Foods for an easy deli-counter dinner.

“I think we’ll have quite a few people right at the start of lease up who will want to be there because of the location, and Whole Foods being there as well. The high volume of shopper traffic from the market will draw visibility to the property itself. We’ll definitely benefit from that constant foot traffic and activity,” DeCicco said.

Many of the residents moving into St. Louis’ mixed-use buildings are newcomers to the city, seeking a lifestyle where they don’t have to drive far, if at all, to shopping, entertainment, work and dining.

“St. Louis is usually behind the times a bit, so it’s neat to see that this new development downtown is drawing people from the [West] Coast. A lot of start-up people are starting to come down,” DeCicco adds. “They look for that walkable city. It’s cool we
have that to offer, and that we’re working on more of it with the Euclid project.”

Cupcakes and Luxury Condos in Santa Barbara

Developer Marge Cafarelli wanted to bring a touch of San Francisco to the downtown mixed-use project she’s building behind the historic Arlington Theatre in beautiful Santa Barbara, Calif. And she also wanted to make it possible for her prototype condominium purchaser, “Mrs. Jones,” to not have to drive to three grocery stores to plan a simple dinner party.

In this pricey Southern California community, food and housing are both expensive. The 37 condo units at Alma del Pueblo (“Soul of the People”) are priced between $850,000 and $2.2 million. Residents flock to three existing high-end markets—the national chain Whole Foods, and California-based Lazy Acres and Gelson’s. The twice-weekly farmer’s markets, held in downtown streets, are packed, and restaurants featuring local, organic produce are extremely popular.

Alma del Pueblo will include five units awarded at lottery to qualified “moderate income” Santa Barbarans. But perhaps its most inventive feature is the Santa Barbara Public Market, a 15,500-square-foot space housing multiple purveyors that offer everything from basic groceries to pre-made meals, artisan desserts, fresh bread, coffee and wine and beer.

The market will be a serious upgrade from a former chain grocer that resided on the site, but Cafarelli is firm that she does not want neighbors of the project to be priced out. Her firm, Urban Developments, will actually run a number of the purveyorships, a level of control that she hopes will elevate the boutique market experience to an exacting standard.

The anticipated resident of Alma del Pueblo’s homes will appreciate LEED Platinum construction standards, take advantage of the on-site bike and wine storage, and may quite possibly be an affluent Baby Boomer couple.

“As we age, we want to be closer to things and not spend as much time in the car,” said Cafarelli, who is in her early 50’s and describes herself as part of the project’s target market. There’s no doubt that Millennials will be frequent shoppers at the Public Market, given the trendy local companies that plan to set up shop there. But when it comes to the homes next door, it’s their parents who may be interested in giving up their larger family home and giving walkable urban life a try.

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