Sign of the times to come?: The Woodlands opens sales office on the Downtown Mall

On Wednesday, Gropen sign and display company employees Darrell Muler (standing) and King Scott were busy putting the finishing touches on The Woodlands latest marketing move– a swanky new sales office across from the Mudhouse, which will join the Ryan Homes sales office with an address on the Downtown Mall. The office opening came just in time for Wednesday's groundbreaking for The Woodlands, a $60 million luxury gated condo resort community south of town on Sunset Avenue extended, which is being marketed almost exclusively to wealthy college students...or rather, their wealthy parents.

As readthehook.com/blog reported, the local Woodlands is one of seven nearly identical 'Woodlands' developments that the Atlanta-based Dovetail Companies have been promoting in college towns in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas. Featuring 24-hour security, swimming pool, state-of-the-art weightlifting and cardio studio, movie theater, tanning salon, practice putting green, sand volleyball courts, and a shuttle bus to cart students to and from UVA, The Woodland's appears more like a spring break destination than student housing.

Atlanta-based developer Nathan Metzger and partner Coran Capshaw did the same thing in 2003–opened an off-site sales office on the Mall (where the Charlottesville Community Design Center is now) when they were developing the Riverbend Apartments on Pantops and Walker Square in Fifeville. At the time, we were in the midst of a luxury apartment complex boom of sorts, as developers believed there was money to be made renting luxury units. Six upper-end complexes containing close to 1,300 units had been planned, built, or were under construction between 2002 and 2003– more units in one year than the previous 12– including Barclay Place on Georgetown Road, Lakeside on Avon Street, Carriage Hill on Pantops, Jefferson Ridge on Sunset Avenue extended, Stone Creek Village on Route 20 South, Avemore on Stony Point Road, and Riverbend and Walker Square.

However, almost as soon as they were built, local developers began to worry.

"I think the market is way overbuilt– and getting worse," Metzger told the Hook in March of 2004.

And even before that, developer Rip Cathcart, who built the first of these luxury developments–Lakeside and Carriage Hill– had his doubts. "Nobody would deny we're going to be in an overbuilt situation here," he said in the spring of 2003.

Those predictions turned out to be true. Still on the tail end of a hot real estate market, developers began frantically converting their rental apartment complexes into condos and selling them. In fact, Cathcart says he sold 108 of his units at Carriage Hill in the last year, and says he counts 11 such conversions of apartment developments. Ironically, this trend during the last few years has turned the situation in 2003 upside down.

"The rental market, as far as landlords are concerned, has improved dramatically," says Cathcart, explaining that the condo conversion trend has lowered the inventory of available rental properties, while the slumping real estate market has more people looking to rent. According to Cathcart, all his remaining rental properties are occupied, and the overall occupancy rate in the area is around 98 percent. Meanwhile, though condo sales have been robust compared to residential sales, it's the developers trying to sell condos who are feeling the squeeze.

So how might The Woodlands expect to fare in this new market?

"The student market may not have slowed as much as the non-student buyers' market," says Cathcart, who admits he's not as familiar with the student market, "but I can't imagine it's going to go gangbusters."

Still, he thinks The Woodland's idea of promoting the "kiddie-condo" strategy, something he says has been going on in town for years (parents buying a small place where their kid and his friends can live for fours year, then either keeping it as an investment or selling it to parents of incoming students), might just work.

And, of course, corporate developers like The Dovetail Companies and Ryan Homes, who are loath to take risks and fiercely protect their bottom lines (they wouldn't be corporations if they didn't), wouldn't be installing fancy sales offices on the Mall if their accountants and marketers didn't think the numbers would add up.

As one savvy readthehook.com/blog commentator, a.k.a "Stormy," pointed out, the Jefferson Ridge and Eagles Landing condo communities are both already on Sunset Ave Ext., and College Park/University Place is over on Old Lynchburg/5th St. Ext. Plus, the Biscuit Run development is coming to that side of town.

"If someone were smart," says 'Stormy,' "they’d try to open some nice retail on that end of town”Š maybe the county and Capshaw can get together on the 5th/Avon connector and get the retail built back in there."

13 comments

I continue to predict that this venture will fail, as UVa kids do not want to live miles away from grounds, and there's been a building blitz as of late in "the core" area back behind The Corner.
In two years they'll be selling these units as condos.

I was born and raised in Martinsville, VA. When I finished Albert Harris High in 1962 I requested an application to UVA and was told by my guidance counselor "No. Your parents will be charged with a felony. You must be white to apply to UVA." In the spirit of the still standing Republican Old Dominion I say, good luck to all the rich kids attending UVA who have their expensive cars battered by [insurgent] teenagers as they drive to to and from their upscale apartments and condos. I feel their pain. Selah.

Damn, now I'm "smelly." But at least I'm savvy. Maybe I can get a correction?

"Stormy
October 26th, 2006 | 9:57 am
Jefferson Ridge and Eagles Landing are both out there already on Sunset Ave Ext., and College Park/University Place is over on Old Lynchburg/5th St. Ext. This isn't really close to Azalea Park, and it's a bit of a haul to get there. That's a dead-end road out there because Sunset Ave doesn't extend through to JPA. If you bike it isn't too bad, but the cars will just add traffic, mostly to the south of I-64 on 5th street, just in advance of the Biscuit Run development. If someone were smart, they'd try to open some nice retail on that end of town”Š maybe the county and Capshaw can get together on the 5th/Avon connector and get the retail built back in there. "

Dear Stormy...

Please accept our apologies. It should be correct now.

Dave McNair
The Hook

I live in Eagles Landing, and they've apparently already started clearing trees for this development. The interesting thing is that to get back to the EL/Jefferson Ridge/brand new pricey apartment complex area, you have to drive past some not-so-great areas, including one place where a group of lovely teenagers got their kicks throwing large rocks at the cars driving by for awhile. I believe they were eventually caught and arrested.

I wonder how Daddy will respond when little precious' Mercedes gets broken into or the window is shattered by a flying rock.

There's already a discussion about this going on at cvillenews.com, but jeez, you'd think with the number of young professionals and college students from middle-class families in this area, there would be some market for lower-priced rentals. Those seem to be disappearing. It seems that UVa would want to have some stake in all this development, since not every student can afford to live in some of the pricey places being built these days.

Traffic isn't too bad on Old Lynchburg, the route used to get from EL and JR, but it will get worse, and the residents are already complaining about speeders.

It's the ultimate irony. Selling characterless housing in the part of town (the mall) with the most character. Selling a people-less landscape in the most peopled landscape in town. Selling vynil sided plastic houses from a well constructed historic store front. Do people not see the rediculousness of it all......stop the madness in this Community. Say no to more sprawl!

wouldn't be nice if UVA let the students drink like they used to. Seems like UVA was alott cooler when they were all f-d up. Now there all snotty

Eagle's Landing already tried to sell its units as condos. No one wanted to buy them. I work in at Bodo's and at least five of my coworkers all live in Eagle's Landing. Another four live over at University Place. It is some of the only affordable housing in town.

Those teenagers you're referring to probably all lived in that area long before any of the people from even Redfields moved in. Think of it as their way of protesting development and a bunch of rich people speeding through their neighborhood. Also, that row of houses you pass right after the Oak Hill Store mostly contains all of one extended family who's lived there for more than a generation.

If you call the number on the website and ask about Leasing, they are actually pretty reasonably priced. My friends that live on 14th street pay $200 a month more than what I was quoted for leasing a condo at the Woodlands. The places on the website look gorgeous-- I am from Knoxville, and they built a Woodlands at the UT campus, and it has exploded. I think the one at UT is over 2 miles from campus, but has still been incredibly popular. Will be interesting to see how Charlottesville fairs. I think it will be huge, but that's just my opinion. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Meg, Eagles Landing is currently advertising their conversion to condos and claim to be 86% sold. I haven't talked to the Jefferson Ridge developer recently to know if he's thinking about going condo. It's just a ton of development back a number of small "country" roads that aren't designed to handle that much traffic. Is the county going to get proffers to improve Sunset Avenue Extended?

Thanx Meg! You've hit on center target. Big Val has had personal dealings with one of the previous mentioned developers'; out of those dealings came the realization that the "new" had little or no understanding and resultant respect for the "old," figuratively and literally. Ya'll, we are witnessing a battle among competing egos to purchase, develop, and change the fabric of an historic place. They care not for sustaining life. Trees, elderly widowed property owners, historic and spiritual places, artists and other folk...all expendable so that we may enjoy the beauty of their cheap, contrived "progress" which has had the predictable consequence of fewer places with reasonable rents. Another prediction: the vinyl-sided boxes with an ironic and extremely amusing flourish of columns and Palladian windows will become projects (already known among locals as the "Train Yard Projects)". Big Val's talkin' CURB APPEAL. Big Val loves trains as much as the next person but not in her own front yard. Yep, ya'll itsa TRAIN WRECK!

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Thank You