Ben Kasdan – Amenity-Rich Lobbies are Becoming a Differentiator for Apartment Assets

National Real Estate Investor

March 4, 2020

Developers are adding amenities like fitness centers and restaurant spaces in attempts to lure tenants.

The first floors of many new apartment buildings have become bustling spaces boasting the best amenities. More akin to hotel lobbies, these spaces are rapidly becoming a selling point from developers hoping to lure tenants in competitive markets.
“Everyone loves to hang out in a great hotel lobby,” says Ben Kasdan, principal in the Tysons, Va., office of KTGY Architecture + Planning. “Multifamily communities often hope to create a similar type of vibrant lobby experience as a way to both attract new residents and to provide an opportunity for existing residents to gather and connect with each other.”

In their newest apartment projects, top developers often cluster community spaces around the main entranceways. These lobbies create hubs of activity that bring residents and visitors to the building together around amenities like fitness centers and restaurant spaces—in addition to more mundane services like places for picking up deliveries.

“The point is the full utilization of space—there are a lot of spaces in common areas that aren’t fully used,” says Rick Haughey, vice president of industry technology initiatives for the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Packages and technology fill new lobbies

At many apartment communities, lobbies are already taking on extra duties as delivery stations for packages and restaurants. Many residents now demand 24-hour access to such services, according to NMHC surveys, and lobbies are usually the most efficient part of the building to place storage lockers.

“The new economy has reset our expectation as to how fast we get things,” says Haughey. “If package lockers were not located off the lobby, you might be eating into space that could be a residential unit.”

Developers are also building spaces in their lobbies for residents to wait for ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft, bringing more activity to the front entrance of their community, and making the space feel a little more like a hotel and a little less like a sedate apartment community.

Hospitality design and amenity space programming have significantly influenced the design of multifamily communities across the country for the past decade,” says Kasdan. “We first noticed this trend in our student housing projects, like 2125 Franklin in Eugene, Ore., but the emphasis on the experiential qualities of a community has captured the focus of nearly all KTGY’s clients.”

Some apartment communities, like the Danforth in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., by Lincoln Properties, includes a fitness center just off the lobby, partially within sight of the front desk. By focusing on sight lines, developers attempt create spaces that provide both openness and some privacy. “Some residents are more comfortable exercising in a more private space such as on a different level rather than in a quasi-public lobby space,” Kasdan cautions.

Mixed-use spaces open off the lobby

A lobby can even share space with a thriving business. “Combining successful retail and restaurant spaces with multifamily lobbies inherently creates the desired mix of activities with great synergy,” says KTGY’s Kasdan.

At Anthem House, a new nine-story apartment building in Baltimore, Bar Method, a fitness studio, and Amber, a coffee-to-cocktails café, open off both the lobby and the sidewalk, as part of a total of a larger 20,000 sq. ft. of retail restaurant space. Developers The Bozzuto Group, War Horse Cities and Solstice Partners opened the 292 apartments in 2017.

Mixing these kinds of businesses into an apartment building often requires a bustling downtown to bring customers to the retail. “We would only recommend this strategy if the retail uses will thrive in that location with or without the support of a connected multifamily community,” says Kasdan. “Not all sites are viable for food or shops.”

Resident can be more likely to use amenity spaces when they are clustered together than when they are separated and tucked away in isolated corners of an apartment community.
“It appears that hospitality-style amenity spaces see more use than compartmentalized amenity spaces,” says Kasdan.

Residents are constantly moving through the busy lobby at Ava NOMA, a 13-story apartment building in Washington, D.C. The first-floor lobby includes a lounge, leasing office, fitness center, dog wash, bike shop, mail and package area, and a 6,700-sq.-ft. food court with a dining terrace. AvalonBay Communities opened the 438 apartments at Ava NoMa, named after the North of Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood, in 2017.