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Does Boise State need upscale student housing?

Tanning booths. Hot tubs. Starbucks machines. Game rooms. Basketball and volleyball courts. Outdoor movie screens. Around-the-clock fitness centers and staff.

It sounds like a menu of offerings at a resort, but these are some amenities offered at four private student-housing complexes going up just west of Boise State University.

“Student housing is an amenities arms race,” said Gavin Short, a property manager with The Preiss Company of North Carolina, which is leasing and managing two of the new apartment buildings, Vista East and Vista West, across Capitol Boulevard from the university.

“The idea with student housing, in general, is that you’re not just giving them a roof,” Short said. “You’re their country club. It’s kind of like a cruise ship meets a summer camp meets an apartment complex.”

Three out-of-state development companies are racing to finish — and fill up — four apartment buildings before classes start in the fall: Fresno, Calif.’s Topanga Investments ( La Pointe); Atlanta’s Carter (The Vista: Vista East and Vista West); and Marlton, N.J’s The Michaels Organization ( River Edge).

Three of the four buildings, all four or five stories, stand shoulder-to-shoulder on South La Pointe Street, between West Sherwood Street and the Greenbelt. It’s an impressive stretch of new construction on the east side of Ann Morrison Park. The fourth building, Vista West, is nestled among several hotels on nearby South Lusk Place.

The new complexes will add 541 apartments to the local housing market. These apartments are available to people who aren’t in college, but the way they are leased and managed is geared toward students. Each room has its own lease, and managers help match up roommates for those who aren’t moving in with friends.

Developers’ interest in building student housing accelerated after an awareness that it was more recession-proof than other segments of the construction sector, said David Nelson, a senior vice president with Carter.

“Schools still thrived during the downturn,” he said.

Short said the off-campus student housing markets near the largest universities around the country, such as the University of Alabama, University of Florida and University of Texas, have become saturated, so developers are turning to smaller but growing universities such as Boise State.

‘LOOKING FOR LIFESTYLE’

The trend in recent years toward upscale accommodations reflects cultural changes, Nelson and others said. Parents want their kids to have more than they did, and Generation YOLO (you only live once) has different priorities.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, the priorities were cost, closeness to campus and then lifestyle,” said Tracy Jamison, community manager for La Pointe. “Students today are looking for lifestyle.”

Featuring stone countertops, faux wood floors, sleek appliances and large windows, these off-campus apartments are modern and durable — a new option for students seeking convenience, privacy and resort-style amenities. The amenities aren’t all fun and games, though — there are private study and meeting rooms, too.

This new student housing in the Lusk Street neighborhood, near the 153-acre Ann Morrison Park and 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt, won’t come on line until the end of the summer, but it has already created a renters’ market.

“It will directly affect us probably more than anybody else,” said Amanda Hope, manager of Park Village, Oregon Trail Village and Iconic Village apartments (all located a couple of blocks from campus, but only Park Village is in the Lusk Street area). “For the longest time, we’ve been the only nonofficial student housing.”

All three of those apartments rent by the room and have packages that include utilities, Internet, cable and furniture.

The new kids on the block are offering all sorts of lease-signing incentives, such as free TVs, $200 gift cards and $300 off the first month’s rent. They are handing out free water bottles and T-shirts on campus and leaving fliers and door-hangers at houses near campus.

To compete, some existing apartment complexes are offering incentives of their own.

On Monday, Park Village and Iconic Village began offering five-day, four-night cruises to Mexico, the Bahamas or the Western Caribbean. Hope said 15 two-person cruises will be given away to new renters at both complexes.

“They are completely transferrable — they can be given away,” Hope said.

Hope said Park Village, Oregon Trail and Iconic Village have about the same percentage of signed leases as this time last year. The leasing agents for the three new complexes also say they’re having good success.

Short, the property manager for the Vista East and West apartments, said last week that they had about 200 signed leases between the two buildings. He has 339 beds left to fill.

About 20 percent of the 336 beds at La Pointe had been leased by last week, Jamison said. Erin O’Donnell, general manager for River Edge, said this week that a little over half of the apartment’s 622 beds are leased, with the most inexpensive rooms ($525/month) getting snapped up first.

The new apartment buildings are similar, but have different room options and amenities. For example, Vista East is the only one that offers studios and one-bedroom apartments. La Pointe is the only one that will have an outdoor pool and basketball court. The Vista and River Edge allow pets, La Pointe does not (other than therapy animals).

ENOUGH CAMPUS HOUSING?

Boise State University had a total enrollment of 22,259 last fall. The vast majority of students do not live on campus. There is no good data on how many students are living with parents, in houses near campus with friends, renting rooms, etc., university officials say.

What the university does know: Roughly two-thirds of freshmen live on campus.

This fall, campus housing will have about 2,500 beds, an increase of about 100 from last year.

Last fall, about 50 more students wanted campus housing than was expected. The university converted apartments into residence halls to accommodate about 30 of them, and the rest were temporarily housed in double rooms converted to triples (they were later moved into campus housing that was vacant due to students who opted out, for whatever reason).

“It’s important to us that first-year students live on campus,” Boise State University housing director Dean Kennedy said.

University officials have considered requiring freshmen to live on campus many times, including this academic year, but they have decided against it for several reasons. Many students live in the Treasure Valley, and it’s less expensive for them to stay where they are, or they have families of their own.

About 60 percent of all campus housing, or 1,500 beds, is reserved for first-year students.

Kennedy said living on campus creates community among new students and helps establish a strong connection to the campus and university resources. He cited studies that have showed higher success and graduation rates for those who live in the dorms — “residence hall” is the preferred term today because it conveys more than just a place to sleep — during their freshman year.

The oldest housing on the campus dates to the 1950s ( Driscoll and Morrison halls). The newest, opened in January of 2012, are the townhouses along Lincoln Avenue reserved for sophomores and upperclassmen. The townhouses, representing 360 beds total, have Wi-Fi, cable, a full kitchen and laundry machines.

Campus housing gets new carpet, paint and furniture at least every 10 years; common area furniture is replaced every seven to 10 years, as the budget allows.

Kennedy worries that freshmen who aren’t yet mature enough for total independence might be drawn to the shiny new off-campus apartments — and end up having a lot more fun than academic success.

Kennedy, who came on as BSU’s director of housing in June 2013, is skeptical that the demand for student housing is high enough to fill the new complexes.

“Not only do I not think we have enough students to fill those beds in the next couple years, even if we did have those students, I’m concerned about their ability to pay,” he said. “We do have out-of-state students who can afford to pay higher housing costs, but not that much.”

The number of out-of-state students at Boise State, as a percentage of total enrollment, has grown from 9 percent in the fall of 2004 to 21 percent in 2014.

BENEFITS, COSTS

After finishing his last final exam last week, Boise State student Holden Klar made a beeline over to the La Pointe leasing office to sign a lease for the next school year.

The 23-year-old from California, who is pursuing a degree in kinesiology after serving three years in the U.S. Army, lived in Park Village Apartments his first year at Boise State. The Army veteran didn’t consider the residence halls on campus.

“I don’t ever want to share a room with anyone ever again,” Klar said.

Students today put a premium on privacy, leasing agents said. The vast majority of the bedrooms available in the new complexes have bathrooms with showers, even the four-bedroom apartments. The bedrooms all have locks to help ensure safety and security.

Because the rooms are leased individually, if someone moves unexpectedly before the end of the school year, there’s no additional cost incurred by the roommates. And it falls to the apartment managers to fill vacancies.

The cost for a room in one of the four-bedroom apartments at The Vista, River Edge and La Pointe is between $525 and $600 a month. That compares with $450 a month at Village Park.

It’s a little trickier to determine the cost of traditional campus housing because a meal plan is required of those who live there. This fall, the cost to live in freshman residence halls — minus a required meal plan — will range from about $351 to $581 a month.

IMPACT OF INFLUX OF NEW UNITS?

Ada County has 34,000 to 35,000 apartments. Vacancy rates are still near the record lows of 2014, and rents are at an all-time high, according to Moe Therrien of Mountain States Appraisal and Consulting Inc.

The apartment vacancy rate in Ada County was 2.7 percent in January 2015, according to a market survey by Mountain States. That compares with 4.5 percent in 2012 and 9.5 percent in 2009.

New, one-bedroom apartments with amenities are going for $700 to $800, while two-bedroom, two-baths are fetching $825 to $1,000.

New inventory this year is expected to push the vacancy rate to 6 or 7 percent by spring 2016, Therrien said. He doesn’t expect the addition of the 500-plus new off-campus housing apartments to have much impact on the market, other than in the immediate area of the campus. The single-family housing market has also been strong, with rental increases over the past year.

“In and around Boise State, it has to have an effect,” he said. “Everyone within a 2-mile radius is going to be competing.”

PARKING, INFRASTRUCTURE?

Some of those who live and work in the Lusk Street neighborhood have expressed concern about where all these new residents are going to park their cars, and how much all that new traffic is going to congest the neighborhood and west entrance to campus.

Leasing agents for The Vista (East and West) and La Pointe say the developers built enough parking for about 70 percent of residents of the apartment complexes. They said that should be sufficient because not all students bring cars to college.

Even if just 70 percent of 1,500 new residents (presuming the apartments fill to capacity) bring vehicles, that puts more than 1,000 additional cars on neighborhood streets and parking facilities.

Hal Simmons, planning director for the city of Boise, said the city required developers of the apartments to provide 1.5 spaces per unit, plus one guest space for every 10 units, which is the standard multifamily parking requirement. A couple of the developers allotted more than the minimum, he said.

City officials did not want to see suburban parking design, with large buildings sitting in the middle of a giant sea of surface parking — not viewed as the best use of space in an urban setting. Because underground parking wasn’t a possibility due to the high water table next to the Boise River, all of the buildings have “podium parking,” with the first floor dedicated to parking and residences on the floors above.

The area has no sidewalks, curbs or gutters. Building those are a standard requirement for these types of projects, and the developers agreed to go beyond the minimums, Simmons said. For example, they’ll install the wider sidewalks envisioned in the masterplan.

The rush to develop the area sped up plans to create and adopt the masterplan for the Lusk Street neighborhood.

“It was a rare opportunity to do planning for an area and have it develop almost simultaneously according to the plan,” Simmons said.

The city has created a parking district in the Lusk Street neighborhood, where many students park their cars for free all day. On-street parking is now limited to two hours, and parking meters will be installed, Simmons said.

The plan recognizes the need for a second signalized intersection for the neighborhood — right now there’s just Ann Morrison Drive — that allows drivers to turn left, or north, toward Downtown Boise. The plan calls for Royal Boulevard to be extended across Capitol Boulevard, cutting through the median in that area.

“This is a major entrance to one of our regional parks,” Simmons said of Royal Boulevard. “This is a way to dress up that entrance to the park and improve access to the park.”

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