From the bright lights of Los Angeles to the bluegrass of Louisville, Ky., lofts have become the choice places to live. And many of the 2006 MFE award winners are at the center of this architectural action, capitalizing on renters' and buyers' desire for urban-style living even in the heartland. These winners show us all how to build a loft of distinction–whether it be an inventive adaptive reuse project with exposed wood beams dating back to the early 1900s or new construction with soft-loft features such as oversized windows and open floor plans.

Prado on Lake Avenue, named Mid-Rise Project of the Year, brings much-desired high-end rental units to Pasadena, Calif.'s commercial district. Amenities include a large, inviting lobby, an on-site social director, and a gourmet demonstration kitchen.

Prado on Lake Avenue, named Mid-Rise Project of the Year, brings much-desired high-end rental units to Pasadena, Calif.'s commercial district. Amenities include a large, inviting lobby, an on-site social director, and a gourmet demonstration kitchen.

Credit: The Hanover Co.

In many cases, the new construction loft projects look so authentic they could easily pass as historic renovations. Take 720 Lofts in Minneapolis, for instance. This newly built 99-unit condominium pays homage to its industrial surroundings with exposed ductwork, large columns, and expansive glass-plate windows, plus black concrete countertops and concrete floors to mirror materials used in warehouses. Or check out Loft-Right Lofts, a student housing property in Chicago touting "new-age" loft units featuring track lighting, 10-foot ceilings with exposed galvanized decking, and spiral ductwork.

Such lofty efforts weren't just limited to loft projects. All the winners you'll see here found imaginative ways to set their projects and initiatives apart from the competition. A handful of projects introduced new architectural features to their neighborhoods, such as Forest City Residential's 100, a high-rise winner that added a metal-and-glass façade to a predominantly all-brick neighborhood just outside Boston. And Cabrini First Hill Apartments, the senior housing winner, actually piloted a new financial formula to help develop extremely low-income housing in the high-cost Seattle market. How's that for a lofty ambition?

–Rachel Z. Azoff

Project of the Year: High-Rise

High Design: 100

Drive across Boston's Charles River and you'll see a high-rise apartment building glimmering in the distance. With its steel-gray façade and angular shapes, the 18-story 100 brings a new dimension to the Cambridge landscape. The 203-unit luxury apartment community completes the build-out of University Park at MIT, Forest City Residential's 27-acre community in Cambridge, Mass., that features 2.3 million square feet of office, residential, and retail space.

Project of the Year: High-Rise - 100Courtesy Forest City Residential

100 sets a new standard in terms of both architecture and unit finishes and amenities. The exterior materials of the building, which was designed by Koetter, Kim & Associates in Boston, break from the area's predominant use of brick to a pre-assembled metal panel façade system. To minimize the transition from brick to metal and glass, the form of the building and the articulation of the facades reduce the overall massing into distinct and contrasting elements that relate to the geometry of the site, the neighboring buildings, and open spaces. "We wanted to create something that complemented what was already here, but also set it apart [from the other buildings]," says Lauren Paton, a regional manager for Cleveland-based Forest City Residential.

Inside, the apartment community makes an equally impressive statement. Units offer three levels of finishes with options that include granite countertops, marbles bathroom finishes, European cabinetry, and stainless appliances and backsplashes. The property's high-end amenities include basics such as concierge services and a WiFi lounge to the more unusual indoor bicycle parking, private dining room with catering kitchen, and a small park. These amenities and finishes are designed to appeal to a group the developer has dubbed "city samplers," people who want their home to be a peaceful respite of green and quiet near an action-packed city. "They want to dip their toes into cosmopolitan life, but they don't want to give up some of the things they like best about living in the suburbs," says Paton. These lucky residents get it all.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

100

  • Location: Cambridge, Mass.
  • Developer: Forest City Residential
  • Architect: Koetter, Kim & Associates
  • Opened: September 2005
  • Units: 203
  • Unit Mix: One- and two-bedrooms
  • Rents: $2,100 to $7,050
  • Notable: A 16th-floor observation lounge with a telescope toward the Boston skyline; a wide array of unit configurations and finishes that helped the developer push rents above its competitors

Project of the Year: MID-Rise

New Neighbor: Prado on Lake Avenue

Pasadena, Calif.'s Lake Avenue is best known for its string of high-end shops. So, with limited residential options, the neighborhood offered a big opportunity to create high-end housing for renters willing to pay a premium to live in the center of the busy retail, office, and restaurant district. The Hanover Co., based in Houston, stepped up to the challenge with Prado on Lake Avenue, a 103-unit luxury apartment community replete with all the latest bells and whistles, plus 8,800 square feet of retail and 10,000 square feet of office space.

Project of the Year: MID-Rise - Prado on Lake AvenueThe Hanover Co.

Integrating a residential building into an urban commercial area proved to be quite a challenge. The city was very particular since the project fronted the well-known Lake Avenue, says Eric Kenney, a development partner at The Hanover Co. "We got over our design challenge with the city by making our building fit into their high-end office and retail street," he says. Following the city's guidelines, the project features ground-floor retail space to complement its surroundings. In fact, the site's zoning configuration required that the Lake Avenue side must incorporate commercial with a 125-foot height limit to fit in with the neighboring buildings. The balance of the site was zoned for commercial/residential use with a 50-foot height limit. To accommodate these requirements, the site evolved into two buildings: a six-story building for the commercial zone with 12 two-story loft units occupying the upper four floors, and a four-story building with ground-floor retail and 91 units. (The buildings are connected by a two-story portal.)

Prado on Lake Avenue also fits into the neighborhood aesthetically, borrowing nearby elements of classic, international style architecture. But one design feature stands out from all the rest: an intricate public art display that took a year and a half to create. The artists held a photo shoot with a large cross-section of city residents, and the images of 50 people are captured in a glass panel set into metal canopies that project out from the building. The subjects' shadows were then sandblasted in the sidewalk below–a lasting impression indeed.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

Prado on Lake Avenue

  • Location: Pasadena, Calif.
  • Developer: The Hanover Co.
  • Architect: Togawa & Smith
  • Opened: December 2005
  • Units: 103
  • Unit Mix: One- and two-bedrooms
  • Rent: $2,250 to $6,035
  • Notable: Located one block from the Rose Bowl parade route

Project of the Year: Low-Rise

Crown Jewel: Loft23

Loft23 sits in the middle of University Park at MIT, its copper patina and glass exterior and contemporary design setting it apart from the nearby traditional red-brick buildings and acres of green, manicured parks.

The 56,600-square-foot residential building, which offers 51 lofts, is one of the final buildings to be constructed by Forest City Residential as part of the 2.3 million-square-foot master planned development adjacent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus.

Project of the Year: Low-Rise - Loft23Forest City Residential

"The site for Loft23 is very prominent, and we always envisioned the building to be beautiful and unique," says Carin Herring, a development manager with Forest City. "We really wanted it to be the jewel in University Park."

Herring says Boston-based design firm DiMella Shaffer Associates suggested Revere copper as the building skin because copper is used as a decorative element on many brick buildings in Boston. "We thought it would be a great material to use for the entire structure," she explains, adding that the copper is found locally.

Despite its unique blue-green cladding, Loft23 relates well to the surrounding buildings, Herring says. "There's something really appealing about how totally and completely different it is sitting in this sea of brick buildings," she notes, adding that Forest City called on engineering specialists to ensure the copper cladding was waterproof.

By using copper cladding, Loft23 adheres to green building principles (the cladding was made of 95 percent recycled material). Moreover, the building, which has seven floor plans ranging from 770 square feet to 1,111 square feet, has a green roof that protects the roofing membrane, and meets the city's strict stormwater management requirements. "Loft23 is surrounded by taller buildings, and we wanted something nice for them to be able to look down on," Herring notes.

Loft23's interiors continue the edgy, industrial theme with open floor plans, polished concrete floors, 12-foot to 14-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and wood cabinets stained a deep red color.

"Loft23 is stunning, and residents appreciate its special character," Herring says. They certainly do. As of September 2006, the property was 98 percent leased.

–Jennifer Popovec

Loft23

  • Location: Cambridge, Mass.
  • Developer: Forest City Residential
  • Architect: DiMella Shaffer Associates
  • Opened: July 2005
  • Units: 51
  • Unit Mix: one- and two-bedrooms
  • Rents: $2,115 to $3,430
  • Notable: An exterior clad in aged copper and glass; a green roof

Project of the Year: Student

Survey Says: Loft-Right Lofts

Students have strong opinions and aren't afraid to be heard. That's what developer Smithfield Properties quickly learned as it began building Loft-Right Lofts, a modern, edgy loft-style complex for upperclassmen at Chicago's DePaul University. The developer, determined to gear the property to its target student renters, held a series of focus groups to decide on everything from the building's name to design elements and amenity options. Above all, students said they wanted housing close to campus that provided more of an "off-campus" independent living experience.

Project of the Year: Student - Loft-Right LoftsWayne Cable, Cable Studios

They got exactly that. Loft-Right Lofts, which is just steps from DePaul's campus, offers a look and feel comparable to any market-rate community. The units feature floor-to-ceiling glass, 10-foot ceilings with exposed galvanized decking, spiral ductwork, polished concrete floors, and track lighting. The amenity package is just as sophisticated. A 24-hour doorman, instead of the typical uniformed security officer, provides lobby security. At the students' request, pizza delivery people are allowed to deliver pizza directly to the students' rooms rather than to the lobby as in many dorms. And, in a move sure to please helicopter parents, the developer installed a sophisticated security system that photographs visitors and their driver's licenses.

The land parcel's unusual dimensions of 125 feet by 456 feet, however, presented a significant challenge for the project team; Loft-Right Loft's length is equivalent to a 45-story building laid down on its side. To help break down the never-ending hallways, the Chicago office of Gensler, the project’s interior designer, designed each unit entrance with its own wall covering and patterned carpet."The idea was to create a sense of destination for each room–your wall covering, your carpet, and your doorframe," says Bill Smith, principal of Smithfield Properties.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

Loft-Right Lofts

  • Location: Chicago
  • Developer: Smithfield Properties
  • Architect: Antunovich Associates
  • Opened: June 2006
  • Units: 160 (580 beds)
  • Unit Mix: Two-, three-, and four-bedrooms
  • Rents: $1,025 to $1,400
  • Notable: Starbucks in the lobby; unit furniture designed by Herman Miller

Project of the Year: Senior

Senior Showcase: Cabrini First Hill Apartments

Determined to build affordable senior housing in the high-cost Seattle market, the Low Income Housing Institute went where no other developers had gone before: It devised a unique financial formula combining HUD 202 funds and low-income housing tax credit equity. This untapped formula allows the non-profit organization to rent the units at the Cabrini First Hill project to residents who spend 30 percent of their income on rent. Plus, 20 percent of the units are set aside for the homeless and another 20 percent for the disabled. The project also has 7,000 square feet of commercial retail space.

"We leveraged sufficient capital resources to make a very high-quality senior housing development work, but without the HUD 202 rents, the projects wouldn't be affordable to extremely poor seniors," explains Sharon Lee, executive director of the Seattle-based Low Income Housing Institute. She expects the formula to serve as a national model for developers. "So far a lot of other projects across the country, and their sponsors have called us for help and advice." In addition to the HUD 202 grant and tax credit investments from Enterprise Community Investment, funding sources include the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, Federal Home Loan Bank, Bank of America, and Fannie Mae.

Project of the Year: Student - Loft-Right Lofts - Cabrini First Hill ApartmentsGGLO

Drive by the building in Seattle's First Hill neighborhood, and you'd never guess it was an affordable community with its well-crafted and brightly colored orange and yellow façade. The building, owned by a limited partnership that includes the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, features a green design to help reduce maintenance and operation costs. Green features include a high-efficiency irrigation system, energy-saving light fixtures, Energy Star appliances, and a smoke-free living environment.

To help with residents' needs, an on-site resident services coordinator provides case management and referral services. Local service providers include the Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Swedish Medical Center, and the social services agency Horizon House.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

Cabrini First Hill Apartments

  • Location: Seattle
  • Developer: Low Income Housing Institute
  • Architect: GGLO Architects
  • Opened: February 2006
  • Units: 50
  • Unit Mix: One-bedrooms
  • Rents: Residents pay 30 percent of their income
  • Notable: Sixth-floor sunroom with views of downtown Seattle and Puget Sound; on-site resident services coordinator; green building design

Project of the Year: Military

Beyond Barracks: Gateway Village

It's always sunny in San Diego–unless you are one of the thousands of servicemen and servicewomen seeking a decent and affordably priced place to live. San Diego is an expensive city, and much of the military housing in the area is antiquated and unsuited for the needs of today's families.

That's why the Department of the Navy tapped Clark Realty Capital to replace Gateway Village–a World War II-era military housing complex on 43 acres in San Diego's Point Loma neighborhood–with modern townhomes.

Project of the Year: Military - Gateway VillageDavid Hebble Photography

"The old Gateway Village was functionally obsolete and had bad layouts with one- and two-bedroom units. It wasn't family-friendly," says Joe Schafstall, a development executive with Bethesda, Md.-based Clark Realty. "The new Gateway Village answers the need for larger units with more bedrooms and bathrooms."

Designed by Silver Spring, Md.-based Torti Gallas and Partners, the new Gateway Village provides housing for 460 Navy and Marine families. It mixes Spanish Colonial and Mission-style architecture and is designed as a traditional neighborhood development with open landscaped areas, front porches on every unit, and "tot lots" that encourage pedestrian activities.

"These families need to interact and bond with each other when their loved ones are deployed," Schafstall says. "A community like this helps build strong support networks."

Because the Navy is concerned about "families living on top of other families," all units are two- or three-story townhomes with detached garages and private back yards. The units, which average 1,800 square feet, have an open floor plan with full-sized kitchens, either three or four bedrooms, and between 2.5 and 3.5 baths.

"Gateway Village offers the same finishes and amenities that you would expect in a for-sale market," Schafstall says, pointing out that all units boast solid-surface countertops, stainless steel sinks, high-speed Internet access, built-in computer desks, and walk-in closets.

Gateway Village has emerged as the premier military housing in San Diego; the project is fully leased, with a waiting list to move in.

–Jennifer Popovec

Gateway Village

  • Location: San Diego
  • Developer: Clark Realty Capital
  • Architect: Torti Gallas and Partners
  • Opened: January 2005
  • Units: 460
  • Unit Mix: Three- and four-bedrooms
  • Rent: $1,500 (average)
  • Notable: Project was finished six months ahead of schedule and won the city's recycling award for reusing 50,000 cubic yards of crushed concrete to stabilize the soil

Project of the Year: Affordable

Useful Again: New Holland Apartments

Like many small towns, Danville, Ill., desperately needed good, affordable housing. That need was evident when the New Holland Apartments began taking resident applications: Nearly 250 families applied for the spots, even though the historic building has only 46 units.

Built in the early 1900s as upscale housing for retirees, the five-story New Holland Apartments is now owned and managed by Crosspoint Human Services, a local nonprofit that provides housing and other assistance.

Project of the Year: Affordable - New Holland ApartmentsMelotte-Morse-Leonatti

Situated on 1.3 acres on the northern edge of downtown Danville, the 60,000-square-foot building sat empty for more than a decade until Crosspoint decided to buy and renovate it. "The New Holland Apartments is a very important icon," says Richard Morse, principal of Melotte-Morse-Leonatti, the Springfield, Ill.-based firm that handled the architectural and environmental planning for New Holland Apartments.

The challenge: To create a design that allowed for historical preservation, energy conservation, and environmental remediation. Because New Holland Apartments is on the National Registry of Historic Places, the façade could not be changed, and all windows and brick had to be repaired and or replaced.

Crosspoint obtained funds from several different sources to pay for the $7.2 million renovation, says executive director Thomas Pollack. The project received $2.9 million in low-income housing tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, as well as a 30-year, 1 percent mortgage for $1.8 million; $211,000 in grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation; $1.2 million of historic tax credits; and grants from several private foundations.

With the funds, Crosspoint was able to restore 75 percent of the original interiors and 90 percent of the exterior, Morse says. The building also hopes to achieve silver or gold LEED certification; it uses 50 percent less energy than similar buildings because of the 70 300-foot-deep geothermal wells located under the parking lot that provide all heating and cooling for the building.

"Not only were we able to restore a historic building to Danville, we were able to provide affordable housing to the community," Pollack says.

–Jennifer Popovec

New Holland Apartments

  • Location: Danville, Ill.
  • Developer/Owner: The New Holland and Crosspoint Human Services
  • Architect: Melotte-Morse-Leonatti
  • Opened: May 2006
  • Units: 46 E Unit Mix: One-, two-, and three-bedrooms
  • Rents: $275 to $550 E Notable: Damaged bricks on the building's façade were replaced with free bricks from a nearby building that was being demolished and had been built with materials from the same brickyard

Project of the Year: Mixed-Income

Artful Approach: Columbia Crest

Surrounded by landfills and rundown buildings, the Perry Homes public housing complex was one of the toughest neighborhoods in Atlanta. Today, the neighborhood has been revitalized through the development of a 500-acre master planned community called West Highlands, which offers a mix of rental units, senior housing, and single-family homes.

The 152-unit Columbia Crest, developed by Atlanta-based Columbia Residential, is the newest rental community to open in West Highlands. The property, along with the rest of the master-planned project, was funded by a $25.1 million HUD Hope VI grant, $53 million in tax-exempt bonds, and $350 million in private debt and equity.

Project of the Year: Mixed-Income - Columbia CrestRion Rizzo/Creative Sources Photography

Columbia Crest offers a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans; 33 percent are set aside for public housing, 24 percent for low-income housing, and 43 percent for market-rate housing.

Designed by James, Harwick + Partners, Columbia Crest's architecture complements the Arts and Crafts feel of the surrounding buildings–particularly Columbia Heritage, the senior housing project next door, says Ron Harwick, a vice president with the Dallas-based firm.

Harwick says addressing the street and the park across the street proved to be the most challenging aspect of the design. "We set the building back in different segments so it has a faceted façade that addresses the park very well," he explains.

With a cultured stone and stucco façade, varying building elevation heights and an interior courtyard, Columbia Crest is similar to typical market-rate complexes. It offers 5,536 square feet of ground-floor retail space, a swimming pool, and a parking structure with decorative panels so it looks like a residential building.

–Jennifer Popovec

Columbia Crest

  • Location: Atlanta
  • Developer: Columbia Residential
  • Architect: James, Harwick + Partners
  • Opened: October 2005
  • Units: 152
  • Unit Mix: One-, two-, and three-bedrooms
  • Rents: $675 to $965 market-rate; $610 to $830 tax-credit
  • Notable: Swimming pool with interior courtyard; parking structure disguised by buildings on three sides and decorative panels on the fourth

Project of the Year: Adaptive Reuse

Quick Turnaround: Midtown Exchange Apartments and the Chicago Lofts

The mammoth, 1.2 million-square-foot historic Sears, Roebuck building–the largest building in Minneapolis–sat vacant for more than a decade as developers tried and failed to come up with a viable reuse for the structure. The eyesore towered over a neglected neighborhood in desperate need of new housing choices and job opportunities. This summer, the neighborhood's cry for help was answered: The derelict building was transformed into a mixed-use masterpiece featuring 88 loft and penthouse condo units, 219 rental units (including affordable units), the headquarters of Allina Health Systems, and a global food market.

In 2004 the city of Minneapolis, which had acquired the building, selected The Ryan Cos. to serve as the project's master developer and general contractor, who in turn chose Sherman Associates to develop the housing component. Thus began the mad dash to the finish line. Piecing together multiple sources and layers of public and private funds typically takes years to put together. But to meet the timeline of the office anchor, Sherman Associates was required to start construction Sept. 1, 2004, just five months after being selected as the housing developer. Therefore, the firm had to close on the majority of its portion of the project financing–$90 million–by Dec. 31 of that year. "We worked on it day and night," recalls George Sherman, president of Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates. "There were a couple of humorous times when people went home at 2 a.m. and came back at 7 a.m., looked at each other, and said, 'Why did we even bother to go home?'"

Project of the Year: Adaptive Reuse - Midtown Exchange Apartments and the Chicago LoftsBob Perzel

On top of making the numbers pencil out, the development team had to navigate though a number of historic renovation challenges. One big one: The developer had to preserve all inside walls and columns, but sandblasting to remove extensive lead-based paint was not allowed. "People had to scrub and treat the paint on the inside of the building without damaging the brickwork," says Sherman. "This took months."

The long, often sleepless, nights paid off: The project has proved to be a powerful catalyst for the revitalization of the neighborhood, where home price values have risen by 300 percent to 400 percent.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

Midtown Exchange Apartments and the Chicago Lofts

  • Location: Minneapolis
  • Developer: Sherman Associates
  • Architect: Elness Swenson Graham
  • Opened: June 2006
  • Units: 307 (apartments and condos)
  • Unit Mix: Studios, one-, two-, and three-bedrooms
  • Price: $695 to $1,795 (market-rate rentals), $170,500 to $925,000 (condos)
  • Notable: All of the 80-year-old windows on the building's historic west facing façade were restored; a new atrium in the building's center provides light for units and hallways

Project of the Year: Best Reuse of Land

All Aboard!: The Depot

Stunning views and a contemporary design that features attached garages and a train-shaped space make The Depot a popular place to live in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.

Developed by Dallas-based Carleton Residential Properties, the 210-unit Depot sits on six acres near an active rail line. "It's a great location near downtown, and the in-town cultural market has consistently been the strongest and the most consistent in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metro area," says Printice Gary, managing partner of Carleton Residential Properties.

The Depot draws its name from the historic Cotton Belt Railroad Freight Depot, which now serves as the complex's leasing office. (The local historical preservation society had mandated that the depot building be preserved, along with certain elements of the vintage warehouses that also sat on the site, says Ron Harwick, vice president of James, Harwick + Partners, the Dallas-based firm that designed The Depot.)

Project of the Year: Best Reuse of Land - The DepotCharles Davis Smith

Harwick notes that the site constraints and the historical requirements made the design process quite difficult. But, by designing the project to look like railroad cars with the leasing office serving as the "engine" of the train, the long length of the façade was broken up, preventing monotony, Harwick says.

The salvaged metal roof trusses were used as decorative elements on the buildings' brick and stucco façade. Recovered wood planking also serves as stairs in the loft units, and brick pavers circle the swimming pool and new building entries.

"We tried to take an eyesore and create something that would be well-received," Harwick says. "Making it look like a train and integrating the trusses and other materials into the design was very successful." The Depot was more than 90 percent occupied as of early September 2006.

–Jennifer Popovec

The Depot

  • Location: Fort Worth, Texas
  • Developer: Carleton Residential Properties
  • Architect: James, Harwick + Partners
  • Opened: August 2005
  • Units: 210
  • Unit Mix: efficiencies, one- and two-bedroom apartments, and one- and two-bedroom mezzanine lofts
  • Rent: $775 to $1,660
  • Notable: Designed to mimic railcars with the leasing office as the train's engine; all units have attached garages; a historic rail depot serves as the leasing office

Marketing and Advertising

Retro Class: Union Square Condos

Going back to school has never been so hip. With the motto "Old School, New Cool," the marketing materials for Union Square Condos play up the building's unique history as Grand Rapids, Mich.'s Union High School, which operated from 1875 to 1968. "Once we chose the name Union Square, we knew that the school theme had to be a part of the project," says Brad Gruizinga, president of Union Square Condos, the project's developer.

And the developer pulled off the concept in eye-popping style, incorporating the school theme into all components of its marketing and advertising campaign with the help of a local advertising firm, Grey Matter Group. The most memorable piece: a sales brochure meticulously created to resemble a spiral school notebook.

Marketing and Advertising - Union Square CondosCharlie Brown

No details were overlooked: On the outside, the bright orange notebook says "172 units, including 22 rooftop penthouses" in place of where the notebook's page count would be located. Doodles include the sales contact's name with a heart and phone number, a sketch of Union Square, and the slogan: Old School, New Cool. And in place of the customary UPC code on the notebook's front cover, you find the phone number of the sales office. The inside features a handy table of contents and includes everything from the benefits of living at Union Square (tax-free living and more) to model unit photos, floor plans, and pages for taking notes. School verbiage, like "graduate to a rooftop penthouse" and "finance 101," is used throughout the brochure.

"The overall strategy was to provide a memorable experience when you visited our offices and our models," says Gruizinga. "We wanted it to be an experience you would tell your friends about." The strategy worked: The company sold more than 85 percent of its 180 units in less than a year.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

Union Square Condos

  • Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Developer: Union Square Condos
  • Opened: June 2005
  • Units: 180
  • Unit Mix: Studios, one- and two-bedrooms
  • Sales Price: $99,000 to $499,000
  • Notable: Units and common areas are just as creative, complete with basketball court lines, slate chalkboards, trophy cases, lockers, and fire drill instructions

Community Service

Group Effort: National Gables Day

Each October all Gables Residential associates are given a day off, but it's not to go Halloween costume shopping. It's for National Gables Day. Each corporate and on-site office is closed and employees–from company executives to on-site leasing and maintenance staff–work together on community service projects. "For many people, Gables Day is the favorite day of the year," says Sue Ansel, Gables' chief operating officer. "People feel so good about having the opportunity to give back to their community."

In the past, the company's regions have each tackled varying projects, such as beatifying public parks, repairing homes for the elderly, and supporting children's programs. But in 2005 the company united for one monumental cause: helping victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This focus was a natural fit for the company, as the concentration of its properties is along the country's Southern crescent, says David Fitch, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based apartment company.

Community Service - National Gables DayGables Residential

Keeping with the company's motto, "Taking Care of the Way People Live," 500 Gables associates participated in 23 organized volunteer days in support of hurricane relief. "A tremendous amount of energy was generated across all of our regions," says Ansel. "It was one of the most important events the company has had in a long time."

Gables founded its annual community service day in 2000, and each year the firm contributes $100,000 toward the event –not to mention thousands of man-hours and the paid day off for associates." And to further strengthen the community service spirit, associates are strongly encouraged to be active in their own communities beyond Gables' formal volunteer activities, Ansel adds. The company has already begun planning activities for next October's big event.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

National Gables Day

  • Company: Gables Residential
  • Purpose: To provide community service efforts throughout Gables' portfolio
  • Established: 2000
  • Notable: Each corporate and on-site office is closed for the day so all employees can participate

Best Use of Technology

Marketing Made Easy: eMarketing

Camden Property Trust's corporate marketing department previously received more than 1,000 requests for unique marketing materials annually. But, after rolling out eMarketing, Camden's comprehensive, Web-based marketing solution, the company's marketing department today receives fewer than 25 unique requests annually.

"We're trying to get economies of scale with marketing, but the reality is that each community has its own particular marketing and advertising needs," says Trish Hoffman, vice president of marketing for the Houston-based apartment owner, manager, and developer. "Now, we're spending our time more wisely because we're leveraging the marketing campaigns that we already have."

Camden's eMarketing site includes a selection of fully integrated advertising and promotional materials, a shopping cart that enables online ordering, and customization of content specific to an apartment community or market.

Best Use of Technology - eMarketingCamden Property Trust

With a development cost of $125,000, eMarketing offers 300 specific marketing campaigns and more than 500 pieces of collateral materials. Hoffman and her team populated the site by creating campaigns that address different marketing problems.

"There are more similarities in marketing problems than you would think–either situations with vacancies in a particular style of apartment home or targeting a specific audience like students, families, or seniors," Hoffman notes.

Community managers can jump online, use the search function to find a campaign that supports their marketing problem, and order the different components that they need. "The templates are already in the system, and managers are just customizing them with their own text," Hoffman explains.

Then, the program's built-in workflow guides managers through ordering and the materials are sent to a corporate marketing manager for review. Orders are received within eight to 10 days; previously, they didn't ship for six weeks.

"With eMarketing, community managers no longer have to be in the creative business because they have a repository of campaigns that are on trend and represent our brand," Hoffman notes.

–Jennifer Popovec

eMarketing

  • What: a Web-based marketing program
  • Who: Camden Property Trust
  • Introduced: May 2006
  • Cost: $125,000
  • Notable: Technology decreased the number of marketing requests by 98 percent