Welcome to the O’Pillars

The St. Patrick's Day kickoff for the National Association of Home Builders 2009 Pillars of the Industry conference and gala is especially appropriate this year, since a number of the award winners are likely to be very green.

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Environmentally conscious builders dominate the finalist roster for the Pillars awards that many consider the multifamily industry’s version of the Oscars. The judges favored transit-oriented, densely packaged communities that transformed underused, blighted urban sites into lively neighborhoods. And vibrant color is back again this year, used to differentiate masses, break up monolithic facades and add vitality and excitement to faded surroundings.

Below grade or hidden parking also represents a growing trend among the 30 finalists in the Pillars builders categories, and lofts continue to hold their place in the hearts of multifamily developers.

From coast to coast, urban chic is among the prevailing design choices for multifamily builders, a style that is even making its way into the suburbs. The sleek, professional, edgy, modern architecture can be found in projects that range from affordable to super luxury, and target a wide spectrum of incomes, from the workforce renter-by-necessity to the wealthier renter-by-choice.

And, despite the troubled economic environment, luxury dwellings, both condos and apartments, whose shimmering facades and upscale amenities captured buyers and renters at surprisingly quick lease-up and sell-out rates, adorn the list of finalists.

Millennium Tower Residences
The 236-unit, 35-story Millennium Tower Residences, a finalist in the Best High-Rise Condominium Community category and the first for-sale multifamily community in Manhattan to earn gold-level energy and environmental design (LEED) status from the U.S. Green Building Council, sold out in just nine months. Pre-sales, which began in April 2005 for the community and completed about a year ago, earned developer Millennium Partners praise for its environmentally sensitive construction.

The buyers, who paid an average of $1.5 million for the one- to four-bedroom units that range from 870 sq. ft. to 2,100 sq. ft., likely were attracted by the developer’s commitment to a healthy environment evidenced by the installation in the building last March of the one of the first micro-turbine systems in New York City. Such systems capture the heat waste generated by their turbines in producing electricity and transform it into usable energy, making the turbines more efficient than other types of power plants. The micro-turbines offer the dual benefit of clean energy generation that does not burden the city’s transmission and distribution systems.

Designed by Handel Architects with Viridian Energy and Environmental, LLC serving as green consultants, the brick-and-aluminum clad building sits on less than half an acre in Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan, and also sports a rooftop array of photo-voltaic solar panels that generate five percent of the building’s base power load. A roof garden captures and recycles rainwater for irrigation. Nearly all of the cement and steel for the project was obtained from within a 500-mile radius of the city and the building’s flooring, paint, and wallboard derive from toxic-free materials with low emissions of VOCs. Filtration units pump fresh air into the units, tempering humidity levels and removing 85 percent of airborne particles. The condominiums feature Brazilian cherry wood floors, granite counter tops and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer views of the Hudson River and one of the country’s most well-known pieces of public art — the Statue of Liberty.

The Paramount at lake Eola
The more retro-chic 313-unit Paramount at Lake Eola in Orlando, another finalist in the high-rise condo category, blends elements of the art deco styles of New York City and Miami Beach. Located on the shore of Lake Eola, the urban-infill community is located in the transition zone between downtown and a single-family neighborhood, necessitating a mixed-use design that includes 45,000 sq. ft. of office and retail, for which the commercial and residential parking is completely separate.

Developed by ZOM Florida Inc., pre-sales of the mid-priced condos that were completed last June opened at the height of the condo craze in late 2005, with 95 percent under contract within just three weeks. The fact that the customers have not rushed to the closing table with the same alacrity is a function of the tottering economy, but ZOM had the foresight not to over-amenitize the dwellings, preserving the opportunity to flip them to rental, should that be prudent.

However, the developer didn’t skimp on the common area amenities, dedicating the fifth floor to a pool deck with a hot tub, an outdoor fireplace, lap pool, lounge, athletic club and an outdoor art gallery. Finishes in the units that average 1,146 sq. ft. and sold for an average of $435,000 include floor-to-ceiling glass walls with panoramic views of Lake Eola and Orlando’s skyline. And every unit includes a signature curved wall that echoes the graceful lines of the building’s exterior.

A Publix store on the ground floor of the mixed-use community, which also includes office space, brings a grocer to Downtown Orlando, which had been without an urban market for more than 30 years. The market has proved to be a leading amenity for Paramount’s residents, as well as the surrounding neighborhood, with store sales exceeding expectations by more than 50 percent.

Market Lofts
The revival of the downtown grocery store is a rapidly evolving national trend, evidenced by the 267-unit Market Lofts, developed by a joint venture of The Lee Group and CIM Group, that is part of the residential resurgence back to downtown Los Angeles. A finalist in the Best Mid-Rise Condominium Community category, Market Lofts, like Millennium Tower Residences, sits on an infill site of less than half an acre. The sophisticated one- and two-bedroom lofts with exposed ceilings are housed on six levels above the retail component that includes a Ralphs Fresh Fare, the first supermarket in downtown LA since 1950, when the original Ralphs that occupied the site left town.

In addition to the grocery store, the residents of the units that range from 689 sq. ft. to 1,588 sq. ft. with price points of $400,000 to $600,000 have access to a delicatessen, prepared meals and concierge services and a wine steward. In-unit green features include gas forced-air heating with energy-saving night set-back thermostat, dual-glazed, low-E windows and energy-efficient appliances in the gourmet kitchens.

The building, designed by architect KTGY, exemplifies the rational expression of contemporary architecture, where the primary structural elements — concrete in this case — are articulated as the final finishes, without extemporaneous ornament or details, so that form follows function. Animated corner elements, courtyard openings and color selections relate to site orientations. Sunset hues enhance the west-facing entrance and neutrals bring visual intervals to richer palettes.

Icon at Doyle
Prometheus Real Estate Group’s 27-unit Icon at Doyle in Emeryville, Calif., a finalist in the Best Rental Apartment Community category, is yet another compactly constructed community on a half-acre infill site, where texture and color combine to blend with the area’s mix of industrial buildings and single-family bungalows, while bringing a modern aesthetic to the historic context of the adaptive reuse of an old warehouse. Materials like stained concrete and hardwood flooring, colored plaster walls in various shades and textures and aluminum anodized windows are intended to appeal to the community’s young professional target tenant.

The tiny new community features both two-story live-work units at street level and two-story townhouses on the roof of the former warehouse Prometheus has transformed into apartments. Building with the environmental health of the area in mind, the developer included sustainable features like energy-efficient appliances, secure bike parking, pre-wiring of the garage for future electric car use, a bioswale within the landscape to treat storm water run-off and use of a more than 90 percent efficient boiler for heating and hot water. Materials like marmoleum — a linoleum made with 100 percent natural ingredients like linseed oil, cork, limestone, tree rosin and other minerals — along with sustain-ably harvested ironwood and formaldehyde-free cabinetry keep VOCs to a minimum in the market-rate dwelling units that average 1,141 sq. ft. and rent for an average of $2,650.

The formerly nondescript warehouse was spruced up with additional landscaping, canopies and wood-framed entry stoops, with entrances set back from the street to provide outdoor space for residents and appropriate visual scale for the neighborhood. Touches of the original warehouse’s industrial slab walls adorn the eight two-story, live-work units that occupy the preserved street front of the old building, adding to the eclectic nature of the neighborhood.

The one-, two- and three- bedroom, two-story townhouses, which add another couple of stories to the old industrial building, feature 10- to 12-ft. ceilings, generous windows and skylights. The ceiling height at the rear of the former warehouse provides enough vertical space to house parking for 43 cars using dual-level stackers to reduce the garage’s footprint.

The Woodward
Developer SJG Properties also made use of stacked parking in the historic restoration of The Woodward, a 97-year-old, 11-story beaux-arts office building in Washington, D.C., located on a half-acre site just a block from both the McPherson Square Metro and the White House, that has been transformed into 189-unit luxury apartments above 11,250 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail. The basement of the mixed-use community that was completed about a year ago was excavated to make room for the elevators that lower cars below grade and stack them on hydraulic lifts to conserve space. The creation of valet garage parking, where before there was none, allowed for aggressive pricing of the units that range from 500 sq. ft. studios to a 1,557 sq. ft. three-bedroom with private terraces and command an average rent of $2,870. Target tenants range from students at George Washington University to professionals working at nearby embassies.

Project interior design firm Hartman Design Group transformed The Woodward’s dreary ground-floor retail passage into a modern boutique salon-style lobby with intimate seating areas and a concierge desk, while retaining the historic elements of the existing retail store fronts that now provide entry into venues that include a wine and cheese store, a bakery and an Italian restaurant and gelateria. Historic elements like the graceful, open stairwell that connects the first and second floors, the building’s original letterboxes, moldings and marble walls and flooring also were restored to their former grandeur, adding luster to the community’s modern amenities that include a fitness center, business center and lounge and a club-room that replaced the building’s former engine room. A rooftop deck features views of Washington Monument and the city’s skyline.

The Hillside
Preservation of the surrounding greenery in Austin’s hill country was architect JZMK Partners’ biggest challenge in the design of the 101-unit Hillside, a finalist in the Best Garden/Small Scale Condo Community category. Restrictions imposed by the city of Austin on cut-and-fill and preservation of foliage in the hill country demanded the community’s developer, CSGM Canyon Ridge, work within the natural contours of the land, while preserving the trees and boulders on the 51-acre site that is surrounded by more than 24,000 acres of the Balcones Canyonlands Nature Preserve.

Hillside’s architecture combines the use of tin, rustic cedar and the area’s native limestone, to create a contemporary urban hillside community intended to appeal to younger buyers. Completed about a year ago, units range from 1,315 sq. ft. to 2,395 sq. ft. and sell for $300,000 to $600,000.

The luxurious interior finishes of the units that feature open layouts with 10-foot and vaulted ceilings include exotic hardwood floors, Berber carpeting, Shaker-style pecan cabinetry and granite counter tops in the kitchens and bathrooms, all in a variety of colors and textures. Master bathrooms feature five-foot, two-person cast iron Kohler tubs. Austin white limestone fireplaces, interior fire sprinkler systems, solid-core interior doors with satin nickel lever hardware and frosted pendant lighting over kitchen islands and chandeliers in dining rooms in select units add to the atmosphere of contemporary elegance at Hillside.

With building footprints that vary in size to fit between the trees and meet the city’s grade requirement, the community sits lightly on the site, peeking above the preserved cedars and oaks just enough for the eight-foot glass sliders that open up living areas to take advantage of magnificent views of the state capital’s skyline and the surrounding hill country.

360 Condominiums
Some of Hillside’s residents likely can see the 563-foot tall 360 Condominiums, a finalist in the Best High-Rise Condominium Community category, where a joint venture of Novare Group and Andrews Urban LLC also overcame challenges presented by Austin’s municipal regulations and site configuration requirements to build a high-density, upscale community with price points attainable by those earning the median income in the city. The community that is the Lone Star State capital’s largest residential building sits on just over an acre, about one-third of which is in a floodplain and nearly half is within the Capitol View Corridor, a height-restriction overlay that protects views of the State Capitol.

The developers designed a footprint entirely outside of the floodplain and, starting at the 17th floor, narrowed the floor plates in accordance with the view ordinance. Units located beside the view corridor have sold at a premium because of the protected vistas of the state capitol and Lady Bird Lake. The condos were designed to appeal to 25- to 40-year-olds with an income of $50,000 to $150,000 — a target market that is particularly strong in Austin. Amenities include a ninth-floor sundeck with a sunning shelf and pool and an outdoor living room with leather furniture, a grill, fireplace and plasma TV and an adjacent club room with a kitchen, media room and expansive gym. Common areas feature plasma screens on the walls that showcase art imported by local galleries.

Located in the middle of Austin’s Market District and within easy walking distance to the Warehouse District, 360 Condos features 13,500 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail that includes four food and beverage venues, an art gallery and a grocery store.

Green building features of the project, from environmentally sensitive treatment of construction waste to the installation of low-flush toilets, are helping fulfill the city’s long-sought goal of sustainable growth in the urban core. And, despite the severe economic slowdown in housing across the nation, the project that started in May 2006 and was completed two years later sold out in just 10 months in 2007. By late last year, more than 90 percent of the 430 units under contract had closed.

Upstairs at Bethesda Row
Also defying the declining economy into which the community delivered in October 2008, Federal Realty Investment Trust’s luxury apartments at the 180-unit, mixed-use Upstairs at Bethesda Row were nearly 96 percent occupied by the end of the year. Professionally managed by Bozzuto Management Company, the apartments, which average 957 sq. ft. and rent for an average of $3,056, leased up at a rate of 35 units a month — one of the fastest lease paces in the East Coast management company’s 20-year history.

Upstairs at Bethesda Row’s target market is a diverse group, ranging from empty-nesters to young professionals and families, who have in common a yen for the energy and lifestyle that downtown Bethesda has to offer. The project that is the essence of urban chic features ground-floor retail that includes upscale stores, a restaurant and a cafe, is close to a Metro stop and major roadways and within walking distance of numerous restaurants, art galleries, playhouses, movies and music venues, offering a distinctive level of city living previously unavailable in downtown Bethesda.

The sleek and contemporary property that is a finalist in the builders’ category for the best non-garden apartment community of five stories or less features a secure residents-only parking garage below grade and a garden on the roof. The units that include both conventional floor plans and two-story lofts are enhanced with hardwood floors in the living and dining areas, Verizon FIOS hook-ups, walk-in closets, washers and dryers, granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Built-in computer nooks, patios and balconies and Palladian windows with panoramic views are available in select units. Community amenities like a breezy open-air plaza, fitness center, residents’ lounge and media center add to its appeal to a wide spectrum of renters-by-choice.

Gable Villa Rosa
Targeting the resident who would rather rent than own, but prefers a more indulgent kind of luxury environment, Gables Villa Rosa offers a lush lifestyle in the heart of Uptown Dallas. More urban luxe than urban chic, the mixed-use community features a blend of Mediterranean and classic design bringing to mind the great resorts of the early 20th century, like the Breakers in Palm Beach and the Galvez in Galveston. Offering 550 apartments and 56,000 sq. ft. of office and retail space in an eight-story tower, Gables Villa Rosa is a standout rental community in the Uptown area.

Designed with pedestrian traffic in mind, the project is within walking distance of some of the city’s best restaurants, public spaces and employment centers and the Katy Trail with convenient access to public transportation. Amenities include a fitness center, two heavily landscaped pools, and a two-story, 10,000 sq. ft. clubhouse that features lounges, a chef’s kitchen, a library and a billiards room.

The community features one- and two- bedroom units that range from 671 sq. ft. to 1,313 sq. ft. with market rents of $1,048 to $2,925. Interior finishes equal the luxury of the area’s nicest single-family homes, including stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, contemporary lighting and faucets, granite counter tops and kitchen islands, full-tile back splashes, garden tubs, open floor plans and balconies in every unit. Ceiling fans, two-inch wooden blinds, under-cabinet lighting, crown moldings and 10-foot ceilings add to the units’ luxurious feel.

Common areas are detailed throughout with original art from Europe, gas lamps, outdoor fireplaces and streetscape designs and architectural features like a cast stone facade.

Gables Villa Rosa, which caters to sophisticated professionals, was completed last June. Lease-up of 92 percent of the apartments was accomplished within 13 months of delivery of first units and developer Gables Residential expects the project, which is currently meeting its pro forma NOI, will continue to be a very strong financial performer despite the challenging economy.

Westchester at Contee Crossing
Despite all the talk of urban living, traditional garden apartment communities in the suburbs retain their appeal. Archstone, developer of the 451-unit Westchester at Contee Crossing, expects the apartment community that is the company’s second in Laurel, Md., to exceed pro-forma NOI thanks to the more than 1,700 jobs expected to relocate to Fort Meade Military Base due to anticipated military base closures in other parts of the country.

Located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the community’s target market consists not only of military and government employees currently stationed at Fort Meade, but also young and middle-aged business professionals who choose a suburban lifestyle to attain a higher level of luxury living than they can obtain downtown for a comparable price. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units that range from 775 sq. ft. to 1,559 sq. ft. and rent for an average of $1,700, are located within easy access of I-295, I-495 and I-95 and close to Laurel’s station for the MARC train, considered by many commuters to be the most convenient and affordable means of transportation to Baltimore and the nation’s capital city.

Parking at the community, which is a finalist in the Best Garden Apartment Community category, is hidden within the doughnut of apartments that surround the five-level garage. Westchester’s 10 acres provide room for four distinct courtyards, including a Zen garden, where peaceful streams, a lush landscape and three waterfalls provide a serene atmosphere for quiet getaways. An entertainment garden with outdoor fireplace and built-in plasma TV is the perfect backdrop for an evening with friends under the stars and the luxurious pool features in-water seating, water therapy jets and a sand beach — an unusual East Coast amenity.

The apartments at Westchester at Contee Crossing offer finishes typically reserved for high-end condos, like two-level loft spaces, crown molding, walk-in closets, arched doorways, garden soaking tubs with built-in arm and head rests, gourmet kitchens, private balconies, patios and terraces and Italian-inspired counter tops and cabinetry.

Winners of the Pillars of the Industry awards, which include 28 categories that recognize excellence in multifamily building and marketing, as well as individual and company achievement and include Multifamily Development Firm of the Year, Property Management Company of the Year and Multifamily Community of the Year, will be announced at NAHB Multifamily’s 18th annual gala ceremony on March 18 at the Hotel del Coronado Resort located on the beach in San Diego.