How do you design a new multi-use community that creates a sense of place for residents, business owners, and shoppers who represent a mix of demographics in Summerville, a growing community outside Charleston, S.C.? The answer is very slowly, with a master plan, if you're real estate developer WestRock Land and Development.
The Charleston-based company began fine-tuning its vision for its 4,500-acre Nexton community back in 2005. Three years ago, WestRock broke ground for what will be, by 2040, 13,000 single-family and multifamily housing units and 6 million square feet of commercial space on a former tree farm. The site was selected for proximity to Interstate-26 and numerous companies, including the Boeing plant that manufactures the aircraft maker's 787 Dreamliner planes.
New 'Byte' of Multifamily Living
The first multifamily complex at Nexton is a group of 14 low-rise buildings known as Parks at Nexton, which act as the front door to the community, says Kent Johnson, vice president of The Beach Co., which partnered with WestRock on this part of the development. Though some may think of traditional architecture as the prime Southern muse, the developers and JHP Architects out of Dallas decided a more contemporary vibe would be a better magnet for the anticipated target audience of millennials, along with empty-nesters, and reflective of the building's biggest perk: fast technology.
"This is going to be the first gigabyte Internet community with GigaFi fiber optics, which will appeal to those who work from home," says Johnson. "When we started planning, we identified technology as a way to differentiate our community from others, especially because of area employers like Google," says James Hill, Nexton community master planner and a vice president of WestRock.
The building façades at Parks at Nexton are clad in brick at the base to pay homage to more traditional regional materials, but other choices at Nexton include more-modern, colorful, cementitious panels; large windows; and metal awnings, says architect Kirby Zengler.
Smorgasbord of Perks
Great thought went into the community's amenity choices, since most millennials may sleep in their apartments but want to live in an active environment, says Johnson. A large, landscaped, saltwater swimming pool with private cabanas lends a resort feel. There are also barbecues, a bocce court, a fitness center, a community kitchen where cooking classes are held, a dog park, rental storage closets, and a conference center. Some amenities, such as bike storage and a mail room, were grouped together to encourage socializing, says Zengler. Special attention was paid to landscaping that would thrive in the hot climate but would simultaneously offer a minimalist look in sync with the building's overall modern style, says landscape architect Chris Campeau, of SeamonWhiteside in Charleston.
Small Masquerades as Big
Because Parks at Nexton's 320 apartment units are smaller than usual in this type of product, typical of millennial-oriented designs that devote more space to shared activities Palmetto Interiors in Charleston chose touches that make the units appear larger. Among them: cool palettes with a few bold pops on shorter walls and light flooring, including laminates that resemble wood planks or concrete. Other choices offer high-end accents, such as wine racks built in above the refrigerator and pendant lights to illuminate and designate dining areas, says designer Emily Hiott.
The units range from 638-square-foot efficiencies for $992 a month to 1,428-square-foot three-bedrooms for $1,671 a month. About 80% have a balcony. As of mid-April, 72% were occupied.
The developers' goal was to "provide a lifestyle and build community versus simply square footage and carpet color," says Johnson. To fit that concept, a couple was hired to live within the Parks complex and organize events, from sushi nights to ice-cream socials, but they also make themselves available to help when needed—the equivalent of "house parents" in a college dorm, says Karen Bacot, director of marketing for Beach.
"We know it pays off in resident outreach and renewal," she says. And it takes stress off the staff, adds Donna Brashier, senior portfolio manager of Parks at Nexton. The result offers another financial reward, as well: The company has been able to charge 10% above market rate for the building, says Hill. The tougher sale was the lending community, which still looks at the individual building when deciding on viability, rather than the bigger, overall community picture. But over time, he and others expect that to change, just as technology has made enormous inroads.