ST. LOUIS — Turkish spa. Golf lounge. Coffee shop. Arcade room. Two-story gym.
The amenities at DeBaliviere Place’s Chelsea apartments, just north of Forest Park, lean on the luxury of five-star hotels and the energy of high-end sports bars.
“Our goal was to create a destination,” said Victor Alston, CEO of St. Louis-based Lux Living, the Chelsea’s developer. “People want to live in a special building.”
Swimming pools and in-unit washers and dryers are no longer good enough. Developers, with one eye on boosting rent and another on keeping residents, are stacking new apartment complexes with premium amenities like arcades, spas, cafes, coworking space and even tap rooms. Apartments themselves are increasingly outfitted with smart home technology, full-size appliances and ultra-fast Wi-Fi.
These amenities, of course, come with a price, helping to drive up what’s considered “market rate” rent. From 2015 to 2020, monthly rents in the St. Louis region grew 10.5% to an average of $992, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE. By the end of this year, CBRE forecasts rent to increase here by about 4%. By 2026, the average rent in the metro area could hit $1,111.
But the developments aren’t sitting empty. Apartment vacancy was 4.7% at the end of 2020, an eight-year low, according to CBRE.
Chelsea resident Michelle Baliss wanted a one-bedroom apartment near her hospital job. She picked the Chelsea because of amenities like keyless entries and a two-story gym.
“I was sold even before I toured my apartment,” Baliss said.
The amenities help create a sense of community and help make life easier for their renters, developers said. It’s a win-win: Renters love where they live, and owners love the stable stream of income.
“They’re hopeful that once you’re there, they can retain you with a lease renewal — that you’ve had such a good experience that you can’t see yourself living anywhere else,” said Matt Bukhshtaber, vice chairman of CBRE in St. Louis. “Retention is what speaks volumes to developers that they got it right.”
Local developer Jeff Tegethoff buzzed with excitement during a recent interview. One of his newest projects, Wildhorse Apartments in Chesterfield, had been averaging more than one signed lease a day since March 1, when leasing kicked off. Apartments start at $1,345 a month, and more than 115 leases have been signed within 100 days, Tegethoff said.
“With no concessions, either,” he said.
Tegethoff, principal of Tegethoff Development and operating partner at real estate firm CRG, is developing Wildhorse with Indianapolis-based Prime Hospitality Group. The $80 million complex northwest of the Chesterfield Mall will have 188 apartments, a trendy, business-friendly AC Marriott Hotel, single-family homes and retail space anchored by a Ruth’s Chris Steak House that can seat 400 guests.
Prime Hospitality CEO Ryan Rans said residents, post-COVID, are looking for a more dynamic place to live.
And the commercial space, the developers said, is as much an amenity as it is a profit center. Wildhorse residents don’t have to get in their car to go to a nice restaurant or to their hair salon. Hosting guests from out-of-town? Check them in at the hotel instead of setting up the inflatable mattress in the living room.
“It’s all about service and a concierge-level experience,” Tegethoff said. “If you don’t get the experience right, then it’s futile.”
Architects who’ve designed these apartments say the “amenities war” here has been heating up in recent years.
Remiger Design is designing a bar and lounge, minimart and party room with a golf simulator at The Flats at Dorsett Ridge, a 214-unit development by Pier Property Group, near Creve Coeur Lake in Maryland Heights.
Remiger Design project manager Paul Stefanski said developers are looking to build apartments in locations near plenty of “natural amenities” — lakes, trails, parks, bars and restaurants.
“However,” said Stefanski, “as sites run out that can offer natural amenities, developers will need to include more elements themselves to continue to compete.”
Joel Fuoss’ St. Louis architecture firm Trivers designed The Euclid apartments, an 84-unit development on a tight plot of land in the Central West End. The Euclid’s amenities package is slim: a small gym and outdoor patio but no pool or courtyard. But the project was more about being in the “center of everything” in the Central West, he said, with restaurants, coffee shops, employers and Forest Park just steps from the building.
Because of that, the Euclid has some of the neighborhood’s highest rents.
“If you’re paying more in rent, you want more of an experience,” Fuoss said.
But sometimes renters want the best of both.
Virginia Green has lived in four-family flats and even with a friend at a condo during the pandemic. She chose the Chelsea because of the walkable neighborhood and its amenities that foster interactions with other residents.
“Community,” Green said, “is huge to me.”