Off-campus housing sees construction boomBy Jared Downing | 09/25/2012 11:00pm
When sophomore Robert Burrs moved into his new place at East Edge Apartments last month, he didn’t have a washer, dryer or a refrigerator. Most of the bathroom fixtures were also missing, and the untrimmed carpeting bunched up so that he couldn’t close the bathroom door.
But the place was new – brand new. East Edge, one of the first in a wave of luxury student housing projects, offers The University of Alabama’s largest student body ever a new pool, an untouched coffee maker and a workout room.
Burr didn’t like waiting for his refrigerator, but he appreciated taking his sofa on a maiden voyage with his own behind.
All-inclusive apartments – single-lease, single-bill housing in the vein of The Retreat and University Downs – are nothing new, but they’re becoming more common. Five such developments are either under construction or newly finished within a few miles of campus. Some, like what will be Rock Point on Hackberry, are still barely more than a dirt plot. Others, like the downtown Boulevard Lofts, sit half occupied, half in-progress, rushing to give the University’s growing enrollment a place to crash.
Brittney Hollis came to Tuscaloosa to manage marketing and leasing for The Lofts at City Center, an apartment-retail hybrid planned for the space on McFarland where Hobby Lobby used to stand.
She said the cause of the housing boom is simple: “With enrollment going up, it’s a good time.”
Hollis said The Lofts has been in the works for a little over a year – since the storm damage made the land available. Getting the buildings up in time for the next housing rush has been a scramble.
“It’s been a real quick project,” Hollis said.
She currently works in a temporary leasing office – a single desk in a warehouse, bare, save for a few boxes of promotional koozies – and across the street, work crews shape several acres of nearly barren earth. Still, The Lofts plans to have its first 608 beds up within the year, with 618 more on the way.
Even the University, which has added 3,000 beds in suite-style dorms since 2005, is having trouble keeping up. Alicia Browne, director of housing administration, said the University has been leasing space in The Bluffs to supplement on-campus housing for the last five years, and this year, it has made additional arrangements with East Edge, bringing the number to 300 University-managed beds in private developments.
“I do not know whether we will continue to have these arrangements, but we are always assessing our spaces needs in housing,” Browne said.
But speed has its drawbacks. Even after Burr moved in, getting his new loft up to speed was a frustrating affair. Even after he acquired his refrigerator and washing machine, it took three weeks and, he counted, ten separate trips to the management office before they fixed his carpet and he could actually close his bathroom door.
“Management would come and look and say, ‘This is awful. This needs to be fixed.’ And it just wouldn’t happen,” Burr said.
According to The Lofts Marketing Manager Jackie Minite, who shares a desk with Hollis, the contest isn’t just for space, but luxury. “Everybody has the mindset that we have to one-up everyone else,” she said.
The East Edge common room has built-in iPod ports, a tanning booth attached to its fitness room and a fully-functional theatre. The Loft’s Minite promises all this, plus a training pool.
“Nobody else has a lap pool,” she said.
Minite describes some of the Lofts’ other grand schemes: an enormous country club-style clubhouse, a covered lounge that overlooks the pool and private parking as far as the eye can see. Minite attended the University before coming to work on the project and said that while all this is all still just a plot of earth, she’s glad to see Tuscaloosa building again.
“The town is excited to have something back,” Minite said. “I’m just happy I can drive down McFarland and see something alive there.”