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Multifamily housing developers emphasizing technology, amenities

Amenities are the driver of multifamily development, says Tim Pula, senior vice president of Beatty Development. (File Photo)

Amenities are the driver of multifamily development, says Tim Pula, vice president of Beatty Development Group. (File Photo)

Multifamily housing is now driven by offering multi-amenities, while in the near future, new high-tech platforms and discoveries in biophilic design will be incentives, say some Maryland developers.

In luxury condominiums high above Locust Point, the future is now for Eric Turner, real estate developer with Turner Development.

“Our Silo Point project was very tech heavy, like controlling all your window shades, thermostat, music, and lighting,” Turner said. “An owner’s condo may recognize you when you approach, music can turn on, the lights come on and shades come up.”

Turner believes the industry is on the cusp of a tech explosion.

“Tech is a cache that’s been around for years, but now elements are coming together with Alexa and Google voice activation,” he said. “Now the platforms are starting to unify. We won’t have to piece together different components of tech into a home.”

The Turner firm is also “looking at” a new hotel project, which has no remotes or (landline) phones in the room, he said.

“That’s very edgy for a hospitality component. Everything will be done in your phone,” Turner said. “If you want to order room or maid service, it’s two-way communication to the concierge or front desk. It is crazy to think that your smartphone has been in your pocket for 10 years, yet we are just starting to get into this stuff.”

At Beatty Development Group “overall technology” is important, according to Vice President Tim Pula, who asserts having high-speed connectivity in every building is a given. But for the present, Beatty is more focused on the amenities trend. “It is the driver of multifamily residential.”

Smaller units, better amenities,

For Beatty, developer at Harbor Point and elsewhere, multifamily residential means smaller units with more access to an authentic environment and walk-abilities, especially on the waterfront, Pula said.

“A tradeoff is nicely designed, nicely appointed units in clean, crisp modern aesthetics,” Pula said. “And then you have access to a nicely setup community with a fitness center, a gym and the access to outside (sights and services) among people. We have people wanting to rent in our building because of our location next to the water, to our Sandlot, which is our outdoor beach/bar/restaurant, and the ability to get out and walk to historic Fells Point or to walk downtown. Those are the driving trends and a large part of the development that has happened along the waterfront.”

Other developers agree. Several apartment buildings will be coming in the next few years along the waterfront.

“People are clearly buying them because thousands of units are coming online in the next couple of years,” said Christopher Seiler, Beatty’s manager of marketing and communications.

In July, a historic warehouse north of Port Covington at 1901 Light St. was slated to become multifamily housing, announced McLean, Virginia-based Transwestern Commercial Services’ Mid-Atlantic Multifamily Group. It is seeking a joint venture partner.

Finance company Hunt Real Estate Capital of New York provided a Fannie Mae conventional multifamily loan to a partnership of Mark Sapperstein and Kinsley Equities to refinance the Porter Street Apartments. It is the latest development at the McHenry Row planned by Sapperstein.

Historic redevelopment

In Baltimore, developers are converting historic buildings, in places such as Brewer’s Hill and more at McHenry Row, into high-performance office and residential units, said Kimberly Clark, executive vice president at the Baltimore Development Corporation.

“What we are finding is that even the historic conversion buildings are providing for many amenities that stretch beyond the Amazon room,” Clark said. “They have swimming pools, workout rooms, gathering spaces, game rooms. So, people don’t have to venture very far from their immediate communities.”

Clark said many of them are going up without any parking. “And they are working just fine.”

The former brownfield site of Chesapeake Paper Board, which is now McHenry Row, has a few multi-family buildings there, along with very high tech and green space with a lot of amenities, said Clark.

A decade ago, the BDC saw a high vacancy rate in Class B office space in the central business district and that occupants were going to newer buildings.

“They were moving to buildings like Harbor East, Canton, McHenry Row, newer, high-tech development office spaces convenient to the highway for visiting clients. We looked at (the situation) and we thought we could incentivize these buildings (of historic nature) to make apartments. We were seeing a great demand. With our high-performance tax credit now citywide, you can build so many apartments you get this buy-right credit and you don’t need approval from the city council. They are all green space with high-tech amenities that are driving the occupancy.”

Green building is now a big part of the new Baltimore ordinance code, while developers are just beginning to learn the science of biophilic design, said Turner.

Biophilic design and architecture create strong connections between nature and man-made environments with the benefits of helping office workers to be more productive, encouraging children to learn and helping hospital patients get better, according to designer Oliver Heath.

Turner said the idea has health, environmental and economic benefits for building occupants and urban environments, with few drawbacks.

“The science behind greening and how it works is why it is good to use,” Turner said. “Yes, of course it’s good for the environment. Of course it is good for emissions. But, why is it good for humans? Why is natural light or certain colors good for us?”

He adds that Turner is in the early planning stages for a large biophilic urban project.

Beatty’s Pula has yet to see a lot of biophilic design in multi-family residential development but “green components are assumed.”

The Beatty-developed Exelon Building at Harbor Point is gold LEEDS standard at the power company’s insistence, said Paul Adams, Exelon’s communications manager. Exelon then built out its space to Platinum LEED standards. The high-rise office building has 103 residential units around the base.

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