Trends in Design and Development Panel<@SM>Den at University of Missouri

FLAGSTAFF, AZ-Though much of the RealShare Student Housing conference on May 14 in Irving, TX focused on investment and capital, the event also offered a more esoteric view of the sector. Specifically, “Trends in Design and Development” brought together a panel of REIT leaders and developers to discuss their latest projects.

The panel, moderated by Greg Faulkner, president of Humphreys & Partners Architects, agreed that today’s students are more socially centered, even as they’re glued to media including Instagram, Tumblr and even Facebook. As such, “they like open common areas to get together,” noted Dinnerstein Cos. president Brian Dinerstein.

The panelists also agreed that students these days are more focused on the environment. Donnie Bobbit, CFO with Campus Crest Communities, noted that the company is using this environmental awareness when it comes to constructing student housing. As an example, the Grove at Flagstaff, in Flagstaff, AZ, boasts solar panels. The 584-bed project at 550 S. Windsor Lane serves Northern Arizona University, and came online in 2012.

When it came to amenity discussions, the panelists (which included Russell Broderick, vice president, senior development manager with Gilbane Development Co. and Jake Newman, senior vice president with American Campus Communities), noted that the standard amenities these days include community rooms, pools and, of course, the ubiquitous wifi. Dinerstein added that parking seems to be an underrated amenity – not all developers focus on it. “Not everyone focuses on it, but at the end of the day, most students have cars,” he pointed out. “If you’re doing business in the south or southwest, you need to make sure there is plenty of parking.” Tying back into the environment and sustainability issue, Broderick commented that Gilbane Development’s focus is more efficient buildings that are sustainable, though pointed out that many of the properties – such as the 552-bed Den at University of Missouri — also offer fire pits, bocce courts, grill areas and even outdoor living rooms, complete with kitchens.

Newman commented that American Campus’ main amenity is location – the REIT sticks close to campuses. Campus Crest’s Bobbitt agreed with the assessment, and pointed out that his company was creating a new project design similar to boutique hotels. “Though location continues to be the number-one amenity in our projects, with this boutique housing, students think they’re in something special,” he observed.

The RealShare conference series is part of ALM’s Real estate Media Group, which also publishes and Real Estate Forum.