Undergrads Tour West 27th Place

SPPD Undergrads See Real-World Applications in Tour West 27th Place

By Matthew Kredell

Students view downtown L.A. Students view the downtown L.A. from West 27th Place.
Photo by Tom Queally

School of Policy, Planning, and Development students learned about the latest privately built apartment complex intended for USC students Oct. 12 as part of SPPD’s Fell Undergraduate Student Conversation series.

Con Howe, managing director of developer CityView and adjunct faculty member at SPPD, provided the details on the development of West 27th Place, which puts the luxury amenities usually reserved for apartments downtown just a short bike ride down the Figueroa corridor from the University Park Campus.

The students also received a tour of the complex, which is 100-percent leased after opening in August, from property manager Tabitha Stephens.

Students visit bike room Students visit the building’s 310-spot, double-deck bike rack room.
Photo by Tom Queally

The Fell Undergraduate Student Conversation program began in 2010 after a gift from Janet and Richard Fell. The conversations allow SPPD undergraduate students to learn from community leaders. Previous events in the series have included meeting with city managers, debating ballot initiatives, addressing health policy issues and touring the Los Angeles River.

“West 27th represents a continuing change in the USC neighborhood, as more and more housing for students is built, creating a large residential community,” said David Sloane, director of undergraduate programs at SPPD. “Our interdisciplinary undergraduate program looks at such changes as part of our sustainable planning, real estate development, and public policy and law tracks. Our hope is to help students apply the knowledge they are getting in their classrooms to specific examples in the real world — and this one is not only in the real world, but their world.”

Photo by Tom Queally

Housing at USC used to be so crowded that floors of the nearby Radisson Hotel were used as student housing. Instead of building new dormitories, the university encouraged the private sector to finance and build student housing.

West 27th Place is the third privately build apartment complex to open in the past five years, following University Gateway and Tuscany. While those buildings are basically across the street from campus, West 27th Place is out near Figueroa and Adams. It’s a long walk, but most residents make use of the 310-spot, double-deck bike rack room on the ground floor. A USC tram stop also was added in front of the building.

Encouraging green transportation is part of what earned West 27th Place LEED platinum certification, making it the first privately owned and built apartment complex intended for students to earn the highest ranking for energy-efficient and environmental design.

Con Howe, far right, addresses students.
Photo by Tom Queally

Points are awarded for being transit-oriented, having high-grade and tightly sealed windows, a salt-water pool that avoids use of chlorine and other chemicals, efficient irrigation, elevators that generate their own power on the down cycle and from using recyclable materials in construction.

Adjunct faculty member Jim Osterling and many students from his class on Real Estate Fundamentals for Planning and Development attended the event.

“I was very surprised about the LEED platinum certification,” said Jesper Rapow, a junior at SPPD. “I didn’t know it was that big a deal. I got a better understanding of how it works. I’m pretty sure in the future we’re going to see more of this type of development.”

Con Howe, CityView managing director and SPPD adjunct faculty
Photo by Tom Queally

Howe estimated that reaching LEED platinum increased construction costs of the seven-story, $55 million complex by 3 percent.

Few residential buildings were being built in the difficult economic times when CityView first became involved in the project. Founded by former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, who is on the SPPD Board of Councilors, CityView was approached by Symphony Development with the idea of building student housing on the site. Symphony put in 10 percent equity and CityView put up the other 90 percent, using a construction loan of $37 million from U.S. Bank.

“Student housing is a niche market,” Howe said. “Although legally anyone can rent an apartment here, the reality is it is marketed to students and has the amenities for students. If you’ve guessed the market wrong, you’re toast.”

Howe said West 27th Place only has 161 units because, with a smaller project, CityView felt secure it could fill the building. Market research indicated that there were apartments downtown that were one-third filled by USC students. CityView believed those students would want to live closer to the university if they could get the same quality of amenities they received downtown.

“There’s been a huge shift in real estate the last few years,” Howe said. “This building was built during that shift. If this had been a regular apartment building, we never would have begun construction. With this being a special, niche market, we were confident.”

CityView already has sold West 27th Place for a profit to Kayne Anderson Real Estate Advisors. Howe indicated that CityView didn’t have any experience in student housing and never planned to operate the building.

The Fell Undergraduate Student Conversation series once again allowed students to get out of the classroom and see how their teachings are being applied in the real world.

“You can learn a fair amount about real estate in the classroom, but when you really learn is when you go out on a tour like this with the developer and the property manager,” said Osterling, who planned to turn the tour into a class assignment. “There’s an incredible amount to learn that you just can’t get out of a book.”