COLUMBIA — College forces most students to throw off the shackles of living with the folks and move out on their own. They quickly learn to cook, clean and do their own laundry.
These days, students in Columbia can also swim, play tennis and work on their golf swings and their tans while living in an amenity-rich apartment complex.
Columbia has seen more and more student-centric apartment complexes built over the past decade. These complexes often come with many amenities and are a transition space between traditional apartments and community-oriented residence halls and Greek houses.
The life of a college student is transient. MU junior Kaity Ferretti lived in the Pi Beta Phi sorority house as a sophomore but decided to move to Brookside Townhomes at Old Plank Road and Forum Boulevard. Next year, she'll live in the apartments across Ninth Street from the Missouri School of Journalism so she can be closer to campus.
There are positives and negatives to living at Brookside Townhomes, Ferretti said. She often has no cell phone service. Although she enjoys lying by the pool, she said the deck is often littered with beer cans on weekends and the water is sometimes murky.
On the positive side, the complex's gym is being renovated, and the Brookside bus makes it easy to get to campus. The bus runs until 2 a.m. on the weekend and makes downtown nightlife accessible.
Ferretti is moving downtown but said Brookside's downtown apartments are too expensive.
"It's not really necessary for me to have a rooftop pool in college," she said.
MU sophomore Lisa Kossover spent the past school year living at The Cottages of Columbia on East Nifong Boulevard near Bearfield Road. Kossover moved to The Cottages because they were attractive and had many features. She visited friends at the complex when she was a freshman and enjoyed the atmosphere. Because she doesn't have a car, she depends on roommates and city buses for rides.
Kossover is leaving The Cottages for East Campus because campus will be closer and the rent cheaper. She also said The Cottages' rules are lax. Visitors often use the pool and tanning beds, for example.
Columbia as a market
Rob Dann lived in a “ratty house with three guys” when he was a student at the University of Denver. Now, as executive vice president for Campus Crest Communities, he sells the “college experience” he didn’t have to students in Columbia and around the United States.
Campus Crest opened The Grove at Grindstone Parkway and Rock Quarry Road in 2011. Dann called it a 632-bed “mini city.”
Dann said his company builds in college towns where universities:
- Are “underserved” in housing options.
- Are experiencing enrollment growth.
- Have enrollments of 7,500 to 15,000 students.
Columbia has far more college students than other communities where Campus Crest usually builds, but Dann said MU is underserved when it comes to housing them.
MU Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said off-campus apartment complexes create more opportunities for students and ease the pressure on MU to find room for students. He doesn't see the developments as competitors.
"I think those markets are going for the students who have already decided that they don’t want to live on campus anymore or, in some situations more recently, that have a desire to live on campus, but we just can’t accommodate (them),” Minor said. There are only a few students who want to live on campus that MU can't accommodate, he said.
Developers sometimes contact Minor to talk about enrollment figures and to get a feel for students' housing needs. For example, he told developers several years ago that they should provide quality Internet service because students were choosing campus housing for its broadband access.
There are developers "...who are in this for the long-haul... building good quality facilities, but they realize they're going to earn their money over a period of time," Minor said. "Then I think there are developers coming in who are... trying to capitalize on the market and trying to get as much of their investment back as quickly as they can and then re-sell that property."
Apartments are marketing to a different type of student than the Department of Residential Life.
"This ain't your mama's house no more," The Grove's website reads. "We think college living should be as exciting as college itself. Your home shouldn't just be a space to cram for exams while eating day-old pizza. Why settle when you can have off-campus, resort-style amenities where you can study, eat, socialize and relax in style?"
Accommodating an influx of students
Minor has been director of Residential Life since 1994. He said that in most years, MU has been able to accommodate incoming students. Occasionally, though, it has had to make special arrangements.
In 2003, dormitories at Stephens College housed incoming freshmen that MU couldn’t accommodate. And in fall 2008, when MU experienced record enrollment and the largest freshman class in its history at that time, Residential Life was about 700 beds short. So it rented beds from off-campus developments Campus View and Campus Lodge.
"We thought this one spike in the freshman class was just a one year anomaly, (but it has) established a new kind of norm," Minor said. It regularly sets new records for numbers of on-campus freshmen.
As enrollment continues to increase, Residential Life restricts the number of returning students in order to ensure it has space for freshmen. Beyond freshmen, preference for on-campus housing is based on seniority.
Residential Life is still renting apartments known as Tiger Diggs, a group of apartments at Campus View, for freshmen. This fall, it will need an additional 350 to 450 spaces. The department rents only four-bedroom apartments to freshmen.
Some parents and students are unsure about moving from home to an independent, apartment lifestyle. Being off campus means freshmen are farther away from classes, dining halls and campus social activities.
"We still think the main campus experience is the better experience for our (first-year) students, but we also have a number of freshmen who are very eager to get out to Tiger Diggs," Minor said. "They want that independent lifestyle."
About 95 percent of students have their own room at home — and about 60 percent have their own bathroom before moving away to school, Minor said. Sharing a dorm room with a roommate is stressful for some students.
"Many of them have never had to share a space with somebody," Minor said.
Tiger Diggs is a transition space from home to university. It has the same contract, employees and programs as traditional on-campus housing with the amenities of a larger student complex.
A new trend in housing
Given cuts to university budgets and the expense of providing housing, the market for apartment developers is strong.
“It’s a great time to be in student housing,” Dann said.
The marketing strategy at Campus Crest is to sell an experience, as well as a lease. Most of the various “Grove” brand apartments follow a similar layout, which allows the company to keep the look, feel and experience of their properties consistent. If you were to compare The Grove in Columbia to The Grove at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., Dann said, the complexes would be the same.
In Columbia, many of the apartment complexes have a similar look and feel. A cluster of four, large apartment complexes stands along Old 63. A worn, brown fence and a hill of green grass is all that separates Copper Beech Townhomes from Grindstone Canyon. Across the street, The Reserve at Columbia is nestled in next to Campus Lodge. About 2,243 residents occupy these four student complexes.
Large apartments are not entirely new to Columbia. In 2000, residents of the Walnut Woods mobile home park were evicted to make way for Jefferson Commons — now known as The Reserve at Columbia.
Dallas-based apartment developer JPI built Jefferson Commons. Later, Education Realty Trust of Memphis, Tenn., acquired the property and renamed it The Reserve.
More apartments are on the way on the south and east sides of town. Aspen Heights plans to build apartments for 936 residents on the former site of Columbia Regency Trailer Park, and Asset Plus plans to house 648 students at The Domain on the Crosscreek property.
Finding the right complex
With so many options for students to find a complex and a "college experience," The Wellness Resource Center began the Off-Campus Housing Department five to six years ago, center Director Kim Dude said.
The Wellness Resource Center publishes an off-campus housing guide every May. Last year, it distributed about 4,000 copies of the magazine, off-campus coordinator Kristi Eftink said. It also has a website for students interested in living off campus.
“(The magazine is) aimed to create a well-rounded and informed tenant," Eftink said. The magazine includes tips on budgeting, grocery shopping and information on local laws, and housing companies advertise in the magazine.
The Wellness Resource Center puts on a housing fair for students interested in living off campus. This is the first year there has been a housing fair both semesters, Dude said. At the February fair, students wound their way around tables offering plastic cups, T-shirts and pencils. Some students putted golf balls while others talked to apartment representatives about applications.
Living — and studying — in luxury
A trend in student housing is luxury apartment complexes, such as The Domain at Crosscreek. Amenities such as pools and hot tubs have become standard in off-campus complexes.
“There’s a greater push for amenities to attract more students because there has been such a big push with new off-campus housing,” Eftink said. “The amenities attract the students.”
“You don’t see an apartment complex without a pool” these days, Dann said. The Grove throws pool parties and hosts events such as Taco Tuesday to foster community, he said.
Campus View, where Tiger Diggs is located, is renovating its complexes. Apartments are furnished with leather couches and arm chairs, a 37-inch television and a full-size bed. The clubhouse at Campus View also has leather furniture with tiger-print throw pillows. Students gather there to study, play foosball and watch movies.
Dann wants The Grove brand to be a place that fosters a sense of community, not one where the rent is cheap. That type of living and learning environment is what makes The Grove different and helps the brand succeed, Dann said.
Other apartment complexes also market an experience to students. Chris Moore, leasing manager for The Cottages, used to live in Brookside Townhomes before he moved to The Cottages and took a job there. Moore didn't enjoy his time at Brookside, describing it as "too generic, kind of bland."
Moore, who now lives and works at The Cottages, enjoys living in a place that feels more like a neighborhood community than just an apartment complex.
Students in the community
The Wellness Resource Center is in the business of teaching students how to be good neighbors. Its role is to educate students about how to live a healthy and safe off-campus lifestyle. One concern in large complexes is partying and underage drinking.
“We got increasingly concerned about our students' health and safety,” Dude said. “We wanted to figure out a way to educate our students to be good neighbors.”
The city passed a nuisance party ordinance in 2006. Since it went into effect, parties have become tamer, Dude said. When police interrupt a party, they can slap an expensive ticket on the leaseholder.
“The parties in Columbia have gotten much more reasonable than they used to be,” Dude said.
The Wellness Resource Center does “walk and talks” at the beginning of each fall semester. Staff members go door to door in areas such as East Campus and deliver bags filled with pamphlets offering information about living off-campus.
Eftink is excited to do her first “walk and talk” in August. As a public health master's student, she relishes the task of talking with students about healthy lifestyles.
At many large student complexes, the resource center is prohibited from going door to door, so the staff visits bus stops to hand out information packages to students commuting to school. The materials have been well-received by the complexes; many are planning on making them available to their residents.
Student apartments are springing up not only along Old 63 and at Crosscreek but also downtown Columbia. Brookside Downtown opened in August 2010 at 10th and Locust streets, and the owners, Jonathan and Nathan Odle of Trittenbach Construction — the same people who built Brookside Townhomes — are building more apartments at College Avenue and Walnut Street and at 10th and Elm streets.
Meanwhile, Travis McGee of Certified Realty is building yet another complex, The Lofts at 308 Ninth, immediately south of Chipotle. Jeff Pernikoff planned to build another complex at Locust and Hitt streets, at and next to the site of the former Memoir night club, most recently Salty's Bar and Grill, but his plan to buy the building fell through. Zoning for the project remains in place.
Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said the influx of housing creates a lively, diverse downtown. Gartner said downtown is particularly attractive for student residents.
"It's so much easier to live here in The District and walk to campus," Gartner said.
While downtown areas in other cities operate on a 9-to-5 schedule, Columbia is creating a balance of day and night residents, she said. Finding the balance between students and professional residents is key, Gartner said.
Downtown merchants have always catered to students, given that they're surrounded by Stephens College, Columbia College and MU. Gartner cited women's clothing retailers and bars as examples. Still, she said, those businesses don't "shut out everybody else. It's a matter of balance."
Gartner believes downtown still needs more residential space.
"We can absorb a lot of apartments here," she said.
"The more people we've got here in the district ... the better it is for us."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.