Student Housing: Binghamton’s competing student-housing projects ramp up pitches to students

By George Basler for Press Connects

BINGHAMTON — The owner of 20 Hawley St. has posted apartment rental information on Facebook and hired seven Binghamton University students to knock on doors to push the project.

Meanwhile, the owner of the Midtown Mall plans to open a rental office and model apartment on the property within 30 days.

The developers of two major downtown student housing projects are starting aggressive marketing efforts to fill their buildings, even though renovation work on the properties isn’t scheduled to be completed until next summer.

“Sure we’re in competition, but I think there’s more demand than supply,” said Long Island developer Larry Gladstone, who plans to turn the Midtown Mall, a rundown collection of five buildings near the corner of Court and Chenango streets, into 55 units of student housing and 18,000 square feet of commercial space.

A race to attract tenants is taking place to some extent, agrees Merry Harris, the city’s director of economic development. She calls this “healthy” and says there is enough room downtown for both projects, as well as College Suites of Binghamton on Washington Street, now scheduled to open in August 2012 for 392 students.

“Competition is healthy because it improves the end product,” Harris said. “Each one (of the developers) is making sure their projects are high quality.”

At 20 Hawley St., the building’s owner, Alfred Weissman Real Estate Inc., of Rye, N.Y., has opened a rental office on the first floor of the nine-floor building and set up two model apartments to show off to students and families.

The building, the former Marine Midland Plaza, was open last weekend during Parents Weekend at Binghamton University for tours by parents and students.

“We had hundreds of students and parents visit,” said Kathleen LaBarre, property manager of the project, 20 Hawley Street Luxury Student Housing, that will feature 55 apartments, with 211 beds, in the main building, and loft apartments in the two annex buildings on the site.

LaBarre dismisses talk of “a race” with other student projects, noting some 6,000 Binghamton University students live off campus, and a market exits for all three projects.

“There is space for all of us to grow,” she said.

All three projects are viable downtown, agrees Marc Newman, managing member of the Vestal-based Newman Development Group, which is building College Suites of Binghamton.

At the same time, Newman has some concerns. While he thinks all three projects will be successful, he worries that a saturation point could be near in terms of large student housing projects downtown,

He cautions that city officials may want to hold off on approving any new, large projects until they see how these three projects do in terms of occupancy rates and impact on downtown.

“We don’t want market saturation and big vacancy rates,” Newman said.

As for College Suites of Binghamton, the Vestal developer doesn’t think opening a year later than the other two projects will affect its success.

“We have a great project that will hold its own,” Newman said, who added selling points will be the location next to BU’s Downtown Center, and the fact that it is new construction, not the retrofitting of an old building.

“Absolutely you’re going to have competition, although that’s not unhealthy competition,” Newman said.

In the immediate future, both LaBarre and Gladstone said they must begin marketing their properties now because students and their families generally make decisions on housing for the next academic year by spring.

“We’re pushing a grassroots movement,” LaBarre said.

This includes having seven students work in teams to go door-to-door with a PowerPoint presentation and brochures about the 20 Hawley St. project. Some students have already signed up for apartments, LaBarre said, although she would not discuss specific numbers.

Gladstone said he intends to market the fact that his project, to be renamed University Lofts, will feature large apartments with balconies, an interior courtyard and 605 parking spaces, for rents of $650, lower than those at 20 Hawley St., where rents range from $750 to $850.

The 20 Hawley St. project will be selling “a sense of community,” LaBarre said.

“It’s not just a building with cold, empty apartments,” she said, adding the complex will include a 24-hour gymnasium, a gaming room movie theater for tenants and study rooms.

The three projects are all “a little different,” meaning they could appeal to different sets of customers, Harris said.

While College Suites of Binghamton is new construction, and 20 Hawley St, involves renovation of a building built relatively recently, University Lofts involves retrofitting older buildings and so has “a different flavor,” she said. Part of the Midtown Mall property dates from the 1800s.

“This is a market we’re just getting into,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect the competition to be a negative.”

[pressconnects.com]

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