For a luxury building, the apartments at the Summit Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., are relatively small–60 percent of the building's 198 apartments are studios or one-bedrooms with fewer than 900 square feet of floor space.
But with one look at the beautifully renovated lobby, would-be renters are sold.
Seven months after the building opened in February 2003, the Summit Roosevelt was fully leased at market rents in what the owners call "a competitive rental market." Much of the credit goes to the building's excellent location near Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood and Meridian Hill Park, but the owners also credit the quality of its public spaces. In fact, Summit is just one of a growing number of companies who believe that a property's community, rather than unit, amenities are taking on a bigger role in attracting and keeping tenants.
The Roosevelt project is an example of a company–Summit Properties, based in Charlotte, N.C.–putting its money behind that belief. Three years ago, the 80-year-old former hotel seemed a candidate for the wrecking ball: It was an abandoned shell with structural deterioration and extensive water damage. Summit bought the building in 2001 and made a decision to keep the apartments small and to spend much of the $42 million in renovation money on the common areas.
"The focus was on offering public amenities that compensated for the small units," says Chuck Travis of the Housing Studio, the project's architectural firm. It looks like they made the right choice. The Summit Roosevelt's lobby feels like a grand hotel, with lots of marble, decorative painting, and classically styled columns and vaults. Nearby, there's an elegant bar with a pool table, a loggia room with a piano, a wine vault, dining and office spaces, and a full-scale fitness center complete with climbing wall–all for use by the building's residents.
Summit is by no means alone in putting more emphasis on public amenities. Victoria Currens, a principal with Style Interior Design of Irvine, Calif., who has worked for some of the largest multifamily developers in the West, likens today's multifamily market to Las Vegas, where each casino and hotel has to be bigger and more opulent to compete. "Owners see renovation as a way to add value to their properties," she says. "Today's renters won't settle for anything less than high design, which can include everything from commissioned art and custom-made furnishings to state-of-the-art entertainment centers." She says that catering to such demands may be the only way for a property to maintain a competitive presence in markets where there are so many rental choices.