Talking Points

Outdoor amenities are integral to leasing and resident retention success.
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It’s no secret that one of the advantages of being a renter by choice is not having to mow the lawn. But that doesn’t mean multifamily residents want to skip the outdoor experience altogether. In fact, units with terraces and balconies do exceptionally well in all climate zones. And a well-endowed parcel with plenty of space for outdoor amenities will be snatched up by developers as soon as it hits the market.

In Houston, developer Sandy P. Aron, principal of Hunington Properties, saw a golden opportunity when an iconic restaurant Vargos on The Lake became available. “It was just one of those beautiful properties on a lake that had an arboretum and peacocks and swans,” says Kate Good, a development partner and principal at Hunington Residential, the multifamily development and management arm of the firm. “It’s a beautiful piece of property for residential.”

The multifamily community, which will keep the name Vargos on The Lake, will offer 260 apartments and a five-story wrap building as well as 13 townhomes on an island that’s accessible by a little bridge and a gate from the mainland. Outdoor amenities will be programmed with the active Gen X demographic in mind. “They love recreation, they love relaxation. But they don’t go to sleep at the pool—they’re doing active things. They’re out bike riding or getting some friends together to go on a hike.”

Urban infill sites, of course, have much less space for outdoor amenities, but the results are frequently just as impressive. “In New York City, as you well know, there isn’t much park space; we make up for that by creating outdoor amenity spaces for our residents, and that’s mainly the rooftops of the buildings,” says Jason Gohari, director of leasing at Stonehenge which owns and manages more than 25 properties in Manhattan, many of them luxury rentals.

Stonehenge also has a beautiful landscaped courtyard at 101 West 15th Street which is one of its flagship properties. “Half of the apartments look onto this amazing courtyard,” says Gohari. “We furnish all our outdoor spaces so it’s a place for tenants to hang out and get to know each other.”

The Stonehenge lifestyle team is dedicated to programming relevant events for residents. “We like to make opportunities for people to connect and feel a sense of community, which isn’t that common in New York; this is a town where people rarely know their neighbors,” says Gohari. “We try to simplify it and make it a little bit more accessible and a better place to live,” he explains. “The outdoor spaces really add to that [community building] message that we’re spreading across the portfolio.”

Last summer Stonehenge partnered with Google for a reggae concert at 101 West 15th Street. “We also do movie screenings, where possible, and anything that requires a little bit of sun and open space. We’ll pull our residents into the space and host those events. On rooftops we’ve done comedy shows. We’ve also done cocktail events. We have local businesses cater these events. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” says Gohari. “We partner up in a way that benefits local businesses, and also enable our residents to feel closer to their communities beyond the hallways of their apartment buildings,” adds Gohari.

A variety of outdoor spaces at The Apartments at CityCenter—one component of CityCenterDC, a 10-acre mixed-use development by Hines in the heart of downtown Washington D.C.—are contributing to brisk leasing activity. “Our buildings are very unique for an urban location right in the middle of downtown,” says Jason Jacobson, managing director at Hines. “While we have a very hard side of each of our two apartment buildings on the street side, the interiors of the buildings kind of step back a couple of times and this brings a lot of light into the interiors.”

Each of the two buildings has a second-floor public courtyard where residents can enjoy the weather. “One of those courtyards actually looks over a moss garden which provides a vivid green color and three dimensional element to the courtyard area. It’s very cool,” adds Jacobson. “Those two courtyards are great because people not only use them outside, but they also get to look out at them during bad weather through windows in a number of our common spaces.”

A fifth-floor deck features a rooftop swimming pool that overlooks the interior of CityCenter with its apartments and condos and also Palmer Alley which is where the retail will be. “The deck connects via a 60-foot glass ‘Nano’ wall to a multi-purpose room we call the Hydro Club,” says Jacobson. The entire wall of that lounge area can be opened up to the pool on nice days or evenings to create an indoor/outdoor space.

CityCenter has other amenity spaces in addition to these for a picnic, barbecue,  game of bocci or to walk the dog. Not surprisingly, given the shortage of parks in the area, Sky Bark has proven hugely popular. Treated with special AstroTurf and a seating area, Jacobson says, “This is convenient for people who don’t want to leave the building to walk the dog.”