For more than 85 years, a 5-acre stretch near downtown Tempe, Ariz., 3 miles east of Phoenix, was a light-industrial and manufacturing site. The 2008 recession had hit the area hard, and job growth and home building had stopped.
As employment in the area picked up some years later, Miami-based home builder Lennar recognized an opportunity for its new multifamily division, Lennar Multifamily Communities. The Tempe location met many of the firm’s criteria: access to jobs; concentration of highly educated workers, some from nearby Arizona State University; Tempe Town Lake for recreation; the area’s sound infrastructure, with an airport, highway, and new light-rail system; and walkability to downtown Tempe, a city of 175,000.
Filling a Void
Because of the economic downturn, no apartment buildings had been planned in Tempe since 2004–2005, making the existing ones dated and lacking the plethora of amenities sought today.
“There was definitely room for new Class A housing, particularly since State Farm Insurance was planning a 2-million-square-foot regional headquarters expected to bring up to 12,000 jobs to the area,” says Scott Johnson, Lennar Multifamily’s division president for the Mountain States and Southwest. With equity partner Resmark Apartment Living, part of Resmark Cos. in Los Angeles, the firm focused on the young professionals market, which makes up a large proportion of area residents.
Proximity to and views of 226-acre Tempe Town Lake inspired Skywater’s design above ground to capture the scenic views. One level of parking at the apartments occupies the street level, a decision that also cut construction time, says architect Gary Todd of Todd & Associates in Phoenix.
The building’s four additional stories are arranged in an “E” shape, to provide more lake views and avoid a massive look. Open concrete airways connect the building’s “fingers.” But the architect’s real coup de grâce came after hearing a person connected with the development express a love of sailing. The proverbial lightbulb went off, leading Todd to embellish the stucco façade with crisp, triangular metal projections that visually read as giant sails.
Offering amenities no one else provides has become an effective marketing tool for many developers. Lennar raised the perks bar at Skywater with a driveway near the entry designated for three food trucks. “The idea will appeal to residents as well as the neighborhood,” says Johnson.
The building’s configuration also allowed for multiple landscaped courtyards outfitted with a putting green, bocce court, outdoor lounges, and pools. Shared indoor facilities include a gym, lounge, conference center, bicycle storage, barista-staffed coffee shop, and a garage painted white to feel more welcoming than typical gray concrete, says Todd. A top-level clubroom with 17-foot windows looks down on the lake and toward Camelback Mountain. The vista inspired Tempe designer Larry Lake to use blue as the main color with pops of lime green and wavy motifs in Skywater’s furnishings.
Developed in five phases that will be finished by June, 80% of the 180 units have been occupied since last August. Square footage and rents average from $1,100 for a 600-square-foot studio to more than $4,000 for a 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom.
Lake found the project so appealing that he moved his business to the ground-floor retail area and leased an apartment. Besides making a once-industrial site come alive, the building has helped spur the area’s resurgence.
“Single-family housing hasn’t yet fully returned, but apartments, restaurants, and retail are in high demand,” says Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, a nonprofit business coalition cheerleading the Phoenix East Valley. And all have helped banish the notion that this Southwest corridor is for retirees and vacationers only.