Albert Berriz didn’t think a property situated 10 miles away from the University of Illinois campus made sense as a student housing community. But he saw other possibilities.
When Berriz’s company, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based McKinley, bought the property undergoing foreclosure for $12.9 million, the CEO decided it would be more successful as a luxury garden-style apartment community. The only problem was that the unit blend was geared toward students living with roommates, with a one-for-one bathroom-to-bedroom ratio.
Berriz and the renovation team began tackling the project in Nov. 2013 by knocking down walls and creating new spaces to give the community a more sensible unit mix. The conversion would change many of the four- and three-bedroom units into different blends to make the community more appealing to young families and Millennial renters.
“What we had to do is take a four-bedroom, four-bathroom unit, and redesign it to have a master suite and a walk-in closet,” Berriz says.
As a student housing community, its success hinged on residents being able to get to campus and the bus didn’t cut it.
“The most successful projects are walkable,” Berriz says. “And this one never got off the ground, it never got stable occupancy.”
But its close proximity to local restaurants and a shopping mall positioned the community to perform better as a conventional apartment property. Seven months after the conversion project began, 220 of 240 units have been rebuilt and several common areas were revamped to fit into the McKinley brand.
“There was more of a bar-type setting, like a party-area, and we made it more mature,” Berriz says. “We changed the wall treatments and flooring--all the interior design.”
Lindsay Machak is an Associate Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.