The Del Ray Tower's sky lounge once was home to an indoor swimming pool in Alexandria, Va.
Courtesy Ulf E. Wallin/Ulf Wallin Photography The Del Ray Tower's sky lounge once was home to an indoor swimming pool in Alexandria, Va.

Plans for new multifamily buildings include everything from dog parks to crafting rooms depending on the building’s demographics. According to the National Apartment Association (NAA), a fitness center is the absolute must-have in today’s multifamily buildings. But what about older buildings constructed before the first shots of the amenity wars were fired? Is there any hope that they will be able to hold the lines and retain their leases?

Washington, D.C.-based interior design firm Linowes Design Associates recently was hired by UDR to completely transform an indoor swimming pool on the top floor of Del Ray Tower in Alexandria, Va., as indoor pools have fallen out of favor. “Property owners seek to make every available square foot count toward usable and desired amenities. Indoor pools are not getting as much use as they had years ago and can be a maintenance nightmare,” says Elyse Linowes, president of the firm.

As the design process at the Del Ray Tower began, it was not clear what would replace the pool, but the top floor location and surrounding views led the design team to a logical place. “With its expansive views and floor-to-ceiling windows, it was easy for us to envision the space as a cool sky lounge,” says Linowes. “The lounge is also available to rent for private parties, which is a great way to monetize the space. It has been hugely successful and is constantly being utilized and in demand.”

Replacing the indoor pool at the Del Ray Tower turned into an engineering challenge for Linowes and her firm in terms of moving columns and working with the air ducts. The space then had to be reprogrammed away from aquatic activities, but everybody is happy with the end result. “The client allowed us total creative control to produce the atmosphere we wanted for the sky lounge,” says Linowes. “They were not afraid to make bold decisions and go with some unexpected design elements.”

The sky lounge can be rented for private events, bringing in additional revenue.
Courtesy Ulf E. Wallin/Ulf Wallin Photography The sky lounge can be rented for private events, bringing in additional revenue.

Besides indoor pools, other relics of multifamily’s past are on the to-go list. “I hear a lot about racquetball courts, which were popular back in the '70s and '80s, but people just aren’t using them,” says Amy Groff, senior vice president of industry operations at the NAA. “If your community had a racquetball court, it’s been converted to either a fitness center or a package center.”

The rise of Amazon has turned package delivery into a huge multifamily challenge as staffs struggle to store and distribute a flood of deliveries every day. To turn that lemon into lemonade, the industry is coming up with creative twists on spaces designed for opening cardboard boxes.

“They’re not just putting package lockers in,” says Groff. “They’ll put all sorts of bells and whistles to help it be an amenity to a resident whether it’s putting a TV in the room or putting in places to sit and open up your packages or pack your packages. They get creative with these spaces.”

Other modern-day amenity losers include laundry rooms and tennis courts. People still want to be outside but would prefer to walk their dogs, grill, or play cornhole. Outdoor pools remain popular, especially in the Class A properties, while artificial sun bathing has taken a big hit. “I’ve seen amenity conversions with tanning rooms, which were big back in the day, and they have been converted into pet spas,” says Groff.

Other emerging amenity trends spied by Linowes and Groff include co-working spaces, especially in urban environments. But when you circle back to what’s really important either as a conversion or new construction, the answer is the same. “Everybody that tours your property is going to want to see that you have a fitness center even though only 10% of the people will actually use it,” says Groff. “It is the top of the line as a deal-breaker goes.”