When the recession hit in 2008, even the biggest builders had to rethink their plans. Consider the site Arlington, Va.–based AvalonBay Communities (AVB) had secured in the Special West Chelsea District of Manhattan. In 2007, AVB locked the parcel up from Valeray under a ground lease just before the recession.
“We had this great opportunity, entitled, zoned, and ready to go,” says Jon Vogel, vice president of development at AVB. “It was a really exciting neighborhood and [was] going to be one of the biggest projects built [there]. Then, all of a sudden, the world falls apart.”
In 2011, the firm finally began construction on the project as it was still refining its AVA brand identity, which targets young, social urbanites. In fact, construction had started on High Line when testing showed that the company should maybe take a different approach to the lobby. So, the developers went to hip Brooklyn coffee shops and high-end Manhattan hotels and incorporated what they saw.
“As our understanding of what had worked for the AVA brand evolved, we completely redesigned the first floor of the building after we started construction, which is never a good thing,” Vogel says. “But I think we really nailed it.”
Vogel is right about that. In addition to providing 142 units of permanent affordable housing, retail, and parking, the building brings AVA touches to the New York market. Residents get tool kits, including chalkboard paint, to customize their units; a utility hub with traditional outlets and USB ports at the entrance of their unit; a video intercom app that allows them to communicate with visitors at the door; and ample bike storage and bike maintenance equipment.
Inside the units, the AVA touches include barn doors mounted on industrial tracks that open up space and maximize efficiency. “Barn doors separate from the bedroom and bath,” Vogel says. “The open floor plan allows you to do something that feels much bigger than 690 square feet.”
High Line eschews traditional ceramic tile in the kitchen and bath area and wood plank in the living areas for a monolithic flooring solution. “There’s one floor that goes through the whole unit, and people love it,” Vogel says.