Thursday, March 12, 2015

Was the Evo a miss?

Several years ago, Campus Crest proposed something unique. With students taking advantage of easy access to loans, universities growing exponentially, there appeared to be an untapped real estate market: luxury student housing. 

When the Evo opened last year it was applauded as the tallest student housing project in the country. But with a pool atop its roof a sweeping views of the Center City skyline, it also came with the sort of panache counter to anything you'd expect to find within the ramen stained halls of housing for college students. 

The Evo wasn't designed for Beast swilling frat boys. It was designed for the richest of University City's elite. But with a 48% occupancy rate, so far the Evo appears to be an epic failure. 

The statistics aren't exactly fair. The Evo opened after the fall semester had already begun. Students were already housed. The true test will come in the fall of 2015. But Campus Crest needs to be working on its marketing campaign, because without students there is little use for the Evo. 

Failed condos can easily be converted into apartments. Aging hotels and office buildings that have outlived their purpose can be reconfigured. But the Evo was purpose-built for students. That means study lounges, large bedrooms with small common areas, and three or four bedroom units. Just one year into its existence, it would be a costly endeavor - and loss - to necessitate a reconfiguration to make room for traditional apartments.

Unfortunately, there may have been a flaw in Campus Crest's assumption that there was a demand for luxury student housing. For one, that market already exists and it's somewhat satisfied. It's not uncommon for parents to purchase investment properties in University City, and these condos and homes are often far from humble. The Evo isn't an investment, it's pricy practicality...with a pool on the roof. 

But the other fatal flaw is the assumption that college students - rich or not - find the Evo particularly appealing. Most students want to be emancipated from the dorms by their second year. And as flashy as the Evo may be, it's still a dorm very detached from the hearts of Drexel and Penn. Students tend to prefer the converted party houses of Powelton Village and Spruce Hill.

College students are a unique demographic. Regardless of economic background, they all tend to want the same thing: freedom. Whether they show up in a Porsche full of Prada bags or a busted truck with "Farm Use" spray painted on the side, students are looking for housing near their friends and relatively convenient to class. 

Hopefully Campus Crest can fill the Evo next fall. But student housing has a negative connotation. Instead of showcasing the Evo's unique space in the student housing market, insisting that it is "student housing," they need to convince their potential renters that the Evo is just like the apartments to its west, only a lot better. 

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