Thursday August 10, 2017

New Age of Student Housing Dawns at SUNY Oswego

The days of ‘Animal House’ are officially over
By Lou Sorendo

    Jerry Wojenski


    When one thinks of student housing, it’s easy to reflect back on the 1978 classic comedy, National Lampoon’s “Animal House.”

     

    There, members of the famed Zeta Beta Tau fraternity did not prioritize living in a chaos-free environment.

     

    Today’s student housing options, however, are anything but hilarious.

     

    Lakeside Commons is a new student-housing complex being constructed adjacent to the SUNY Oswego campus. It is located about 500 feet west of the college’s main entrance on state Route 104 West.

     

    The Newman Development Group of Vestal and Morgan Communities of Rochester jointly own the $20 million project.

     

    NDG’s own student housing management group — NDG Student Living — will manage Lakeside Commons.

     

    Jerry Wojenski, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NDG’s Student Living, will be overseeing the leasing and management of the property.

     

    He said student housing has blossomed into one of the fastest growing industries in the apartment rental sector.

     

    “The industry used to be kind of obscure back in the early 2000s. Not many people or investors knew about it,” he said.

     

    “When someone had the idea to build student apartments and went to a lender, the bank would come back and ask, ‘Have you seen Animal House?’ There’s what kind of stereotype has been associated with it.”

     

    The 144,000 square-foot complex will feature 84 townhouses and 320 beds within 11 buildings.

    Floor plan types include four bedrooms-four baths, two bedrooms-two baths and six bedroom-six baths. There will also be a 9,000 square-foot two-story clubhouse.

     

     

    Construction will be complete in June of 2018 and first occupancy by students will be in August of 2018, according to Jeffrey Smetana, vice president of NDG.

     

    “The college is elevating its academic standing every year. Each class is more competitive than the previous one, and they are drawing more kids from the New York metro area,” Wojenski said. “They are focusing on their STEM facilities and getting more math and science students. These are the type of students who really want to live close to campus. We give them the benefit of being off campus, but still right there very close by.”

     

    Units on the 7.4-acre parcel are available to any full-time college student, Smetana said.

    Purcell Construction, based in Watertown, is in charge of construction.

     

    NBT Bank and the County of Oswego Industrial Development Agency provided financial assistance for the project that is expected to create eight jobs.

     

     

    “It’s designed for students from the ground up,” Wojenski said. “Everything from common area spaces to living room units will be designed around a person who is attending a four-year university.”

     

    For example, its clubhouse has amenities that one may find in market-rate apartment complexes in other cities, but “it’s geared more to a younger generation, or ‘Generation Z’ that is going to college now,” Wojenski said.

     

    Generation Z is the demographic cohort after the Millennials. Birth years range from the mid-1900s to the mid-2000s.

     

    A large study area with private conference rooms for students will be featured. Computers and free printing will be available, as well as smart and white boards for students to do group work and individual studies.

     

    There is bed-to-bath parity, meaning students do not have to share bathroom facilities. They also have plenty of space to study inside their rooms, Wojenski noted.

     

    “We provide them with all furniture, so they don’t have to go and buy furniture or pull a couch down an alleyway to their house. All that is provided for them as well as utilities. It is all-inclusive living,” he added.

     

    “You come in and pay a single price, and we basically provide you with the tools and accommodations you need to succeed in college,” Wojenski said.

     

    Prices vary depending on what floor plan is chosen. “We charge per bed, which is also unique to student housing because you are not responsible for your roommate’s rent. You are only responsible for your own,” he added.

     

    Each student has his or her own lease and lease liability.

     

    Rent ranges from about $825 to $875 depending on the floor plan, and the package includes Internet and cable.

     

    Sector taking off During the recession that began in mid-2007, student housing performed well “while every other industry tanked,” Wojenski said.

     

    Investors noticed and paid attention, “and now a lot of money is being flooded into the student housing sector. It’s growing at an exponential rate,” he added.

     

    Wojenski said managed student housing took off in the south in growth states such as Texas, North Carolina and Florida. The schools were booming in terms of enrollment, and could not keep up with demand.

     

    That’s when private developers came in and filled the void, Wojenski said.

     

    “It was very easy to develop in the south. Taxes were very affordable and that’s where the industry budded,” he added.

     

    For example, one national competitor, American Campus Communities based out of Texas, has 150,000 students it serves every year.

     

    It is the largest provider of student housing in the country.

     

    “That’s all they do. This is just their unique industry,” Wojenski said.

     

    The Northeast was the last to catch on to the managed student-housing concept.

     

    “It’s just been a thing in the last five years. It’s just starting to grow in the Northeast,” he said.

     

    The reasons why it has taken considerably longer for the concept to be absorbed in the Northeast is partially because development is difficult given aging infrastructure systems.

     

    “Sometimes communities don’t have the sewer and water capabilities to accept student housing and new development,” Wojenski said.

     

    With other towns, it’s an educational process, he noted. “We have to teach them about what managed student housing is and what we’re planning to do. Sometimes it’s a matter of educating the market,” he said.

     

    “These students are not used to living off campus or living in a mom and pop rental,” he said. “In some markets, these rentals are very cheap because they are also very poorly managed and not very well maintained.”

     

    “That’s because there has been no competition. Landlords have had the run of the show,” Wojenski added.

     

    Demand runs high  “When most students are raised, they don’t share a bedroom anymore. They live in a home now where they have their own bedroom and sometimes they have their own bathroom. They are not used to being cramped in tight spaces and having to pay bills, and prefer someone to take care of all the details so they can focus on school work, their social life, enjoy college and succeed,” Wojenski said.

     

    From the parents’ perspective, Wojenski said they not only want a clean place, but also safe.

     

    “Sometimes you see in some situations with off-campus housing — and we see it in Boston — where these private mom and pop operations are fire traps and there have been losses of life,” he added.

     

    He said Lakeside Commons offers a sprinkler and fire alarm system that features the latest in technology.

     

    There will be on-site staff and an electronic lock system, along with surveillance cameras to ensure students’ security. Courtesy patrol officers will frequent the area on weekend nights.

     

    Wojenski said SUNY Oswego features some “really nice housing on campus,” such as the Village Townhouses. “So we see this as a really good complement to what the college is doing,” he said.

     

    “In Oswego, you have some very good off-campus owners and operators. There are some nice homes and apartments for students, but in every college community, you also have landlords that don’t maintain their properties that well,” Wojenski said.

    He noted Oswego City Mayor William “Billy” Barlow is addressing those issues really well.

     

    “Students have been forces to live in some units that have been less than desirable. We feel we’re really filling that excess demand and feel the college will continue to do well. What happens sometimes when a property like this comes into the market is it actually elevates the market for all landlords. Parents and students really see the value of good, quality, well-run student housing,” he said.

     

    NDG’s marketing slogan is “Live first class, next to class.”

Oswego County Business Magazine
Issue 151

Issue 151
August/September 2017

Cover Story

Profiles

John Halleron

On The Job

'When was the last time you took a vacation?'

Success Stories

High Adventure Sport fishing

My Turn

President Trump and the Media: A Contentious Relationship

Economic Trends

OOC Honors Local Organizations, Businessmen

Last Page

Kathy Ouellette