Vintala Partners - The District

Building high-quality apartments in secondary and tertiary markets is a strategy that is proving successful for Vintala Partners and its new luxury apartment development called The District in south Baton Rouge, La., is an excellent example. The 312-unit development will offer luxury and innovation at an affordable price in an attractive location when it opens next summer.

“We think there’s a huge amount of opportunity in these kinds of markets,” Vintala Principal and co-founder Clay Likover declares. Already, the new company is planning luxury apartments in smaller markets in Texas and Louisiana, such as Lake Charles and Lafayette, La.

The District’s innovative design “wraps” three, three-story apartment buildings around a three-and-a-half-story, 439-space precast parking garage. This makes automotive access from the apartments easy through corridors or covered walkways at every level. 

Using 268 precast concrete pieces to assemble the parking garage enabled it to be built in approximately 30 days. “To have poured the concrete in place and built it would have taken three to four months,” Vintala Principal and co-founder Stephen Keller maintains. “You have to erect the garage first because the buildings surround and attach to it.” The garage is resting on approximately 125 pilings placed 55 feet deep. The pieces for the garage were trucked to the site from Tindall Corp.’s Mississippi factory.

Economical Luxury

The District was designed by JHP Architecture & Urban Design of Dallas and conceptualized to economize on those things that add cost to such a project, such as elevators. With only three stories of height and the central garage, stairways are all that are needed. 

Construction of The District is being led by Block Builders of Baton Rouge, which is owned and operated by Keller and his brother. The development economizes by using wood instead of concrete construction, brick facades mixed with strategic use of fiber cement siding and some stucco, metal roof structures and composite shingles. The HVAC units have higher seasonal energy efficiency ratios, and each apartment has upgraded insulation and insulated windows.

Approximately 55 percent of the units will have one bedroom, and 45 percent will be two-bedroom units. “We’re very careful about the unit mix we design, the scope of the overall project and the resulting quality of construction execution,” Likover says. 

“We focus on projects where we can build enough units such that we can spread both the construction and operating costs of amenity areas over enough units to achieve economies of scale,” Keller says. Regarding construction costs in these markets, Keller estimates that “salaries and operating costs are a little lower but I doubt that hard costs are significantly lower.”

The savings from economies of scale can be applied to better amenities and finishes than were traditionally found in these markets. “When we say ‘luxury apartments,’ it means state-of-the-art amenities and finishes like you would see in the current top-tier projects in primary markets,” Likover says. In the 5,000-square-foot clubhouse, these include custom finishes and furniture designed by The Design Studio of Louisiana, including multiple large flat-screen TVs, videogame stations, a tanning facility and an oversized fitness center. In the rest of the development’s 11 acres will be a dog park, multiple courtyards and a resort-style outdoor swimming pool with hot tub, cabanas and stainless steel grills.

Economies of Scale

Construction of the District began in July, and the first units are scheduled for completion in July 2014. All the units should be completed by December 2014. Up to 20 subcontractors are expected to work on the project. “We are gaining some economies of scale from the fact that we can offer these subcontractors multiple projects to work on with us,” Keller points out. “We have a few others in the pipeline that they know are coming. The main driver of cost increases recently has been labor cost more than material cost. There are so many multifamily projects being built in Texas that all of the subcontractors in the region are extremely busy right now.” 

Louisiana is booming because of the petrochemical industry’s resurgence. The development’s target market is young professionals from the nearby medical center and engineers. “There’s a huge amount of medical growth going on right around us,” Likover says. 

The project site had been owned by the same family since the early 1950s and most recently was used as a laydown yard for Coastal Bridge, their bridge contracting business. 

“Coastal realized in the last decade that they really needed to move out to a more industrial area,” Likover recalls. “They had this land, and they were trying to decide what to do with it. We met one of the principals of Coastal, and they agreed to do a deal with us. They wanted something built on the land that had been in their family for 60 years that the neighborhood would like and that will be high quality for years to come, which is why they chose to partner with us.”

Medical District

The development is named after the concentration of medical facilities in the area. “We anticipate that the area will formally become known as the medical district for the region, and that’s why we picked The District,” Likover explains. “We felt it fit with the nearby burgeoning medical district in Baton Rouge, and it sounded like a good name for an infill project.” 

Vintala will manage the District after its completion. “We have an in-house management company that will apply best-in-class management practices,” Likover promises.

“Our philosophy is to build best-in-class apartments in strong secondary and tertiary markets that are overlooked by most of the institutional competition,” he concludes. “Our strategy is to go where the herd isn’t. We have no desire to be just one of 15,000 other new units in markets like Dallas or Houston or Austin. We think there’s a huge opportunity to build state-of-the-art luxury apartments in overlooked markets that have compelling supply-demand imbalances. We believe that for the next 10 years, there will be a lot of job growth and therefore demand for multifamily housing in markets like Baton Rouge.”

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