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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Sleek & Stylish

In San Diego, the luxury apartment has come into its own.

While the region does not have the sheer population of Manhattan or Hong Kong, it can offer a city-center experience with enviable views.

Property owners are able to offer that experience in two distinct regions of the city. The continued regeneration of San Diego’s historic neighborhoods is making that possible in the city’s downtown core. Several miles to the north, what might be considered a second downtown in the University Towne Center neighborhood is filling out.

Many of these luxury apartments are in high-rise buildings, though that is not a blanket statement. Five- and six-story buildings also have places on the San Diego Business Journal’s List of Downtown Luxury Apartments, found in this Special Report. The List shows a variety of properties that demand monthly lease rates ranging from just shy of $2,000 to the mid-$3,000s.

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In UTC, the most luxurious of the apartment options command monthly lease rates just shy of $5,000.

A Variety of Tenants

Who leases? A variety of people do.

Downtown attracts a young crowd looking for a dynamic live-work-play environment, said Rachel Parsons, director at Moran & Co., a real estate brokerage specializing in multifamily properties.

Downtown is a place where a person can park his or her car and leave it for days. For day-to-day tasks, many residents choose to walk or take transit. Ride-hailing services have been popular. Rail service puts downtown Los Angeles as well as several other Southern California beach towns within easy reach.

Many young people make downtown — with its easy access to Gaslamp Quarter nightlife — their first choice to live. Some prefer it to beach communities. The presence of studio apartments in luxury buildings make that possible.

Downtown is also a choice for professionals with downtown offices.

Luxury apartments also attract people who have been transferred for their jobs, or temporarily in San Diego working with the U.S. Navy or for defense contractors, said Whitney Benzian, vice president of public affairs at the California Apartment Association’s office in San Diego.

Up and coming professionals can afford lease payments of $4,000 and up, Benzian said.

Single people and couples are common while families are rare in downtown’s apartment communities, Parsons said.

Park 12, the top property on the List, attracts people looking for a refined living experience with high-level amenities, said a spokesperson for the property. (Apartment buildings on the List are ranked by number of units.) Owned by JMI Realty Inc. and managed by Greystar, Park 12 has 718 units. It was built in 2018 and has an average lease rate of $3,124.

A representative for two Lennar properties, Shift and Luma, (No. 7 and No. 15 respectively on the List) said the company focuses its marketing on a variety of people. Shift, in East Village, has 368 units and an average lease of $2,677 while Luma, in Little Italy, has 220 units and an average lease of $3,785.

Renters prefer the walkability of this culturally diverse, central location, said Kristen Mete Kingi, marketing director West at Lennar’s LMC property management arm.

Neighborhoods Remade

To the north, the University Towne Center area offers rental housing near the University of California campus. The neighborhood also serves the scientific and technical businesses in the university’s shadow, and boasts one of San Diego County’s most upscale shopping centers. The demographic is not all young, however. The neighborhood includes buildings catering to seniors.

The region is a recent addition to San Diego, and was mostly dirt lots in the 1970s.

Downtown, for its part, was not always synonymous with luxury living.

Major redevelopment projects spurred multifamily housing development downtown. There was the conversion of the Gaslamp Quarter from sailor hangout to trendy night spot, and the building of the Horton Plaza shopping center. Those events in the last decades of the 20th century contributed to the building of nearby condominium projects.

Parsons, the real estate broker, pointed to a second phenomenon — the building of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball club — as a catalyst for luxury apartment development nearby. The Padres opened their ballpark in the mid-2000s.

More toward the waterfront, the Little Italy neighborhood has transformed in the last decade or two from a quiet neighborhood to one with hustle and bustle, she said.

A Downtown Panorama

Many renters choose downtown for its spectacular views.

The 45-floor Spire tower has views of San Diego Bay, Balboa Park and the central business district.

“The views really are our number one amenity,” said Dennis La Salle, development manager of developer Pinnacle International of Vancouver, Canada, in an August interview. “Being in the tallest high-rise in San Diego, there’s really no compromise here. You can start seeing really nice views on level 10. The higher you go, the better the view.”

Park 12 has a perk that will appeal to baseball fans: views directly into the ballpark. Location, with the presence of shopping and dining, is part of its appeal, a spokesperson said.

Alexan ALX, a building a few blocks east of Park 12, touts its location near shopping, dining and the ballpark — and its proximity to one of the best beaches in Southern California, at Coronado. With 313 units, Alexan ALX ranks 8th on the Downtown Luxury Apartments List. It was completed in 2017 and has an average rental rate of $2,693. Trammel Crow Residential Co. is the building owner. Alliance manages the property.

The Steel and Quartz Look

Luxury apartments are not always the apartments with the most square feet of space. Indeed, as developers built or remodeled their buildings, they anticipated a demand for studio apartments.

Studios come in a variety of sizes, Parsons noted, from the very small to what is known as the junior one-bedroom. Many studio dwellers choose not to spend much time in their apartments, opting to work in the building’s business center or other community amenities. Downtown itself has plenty of other places to spend one’s waking hours.

Many buildings on the Downtown Luxury Apartments list advertise amenities such as stainless steel appliances and quartz countertops. Parsons said builders often finish their apartments in two or three color schemes, to provide “something for everybody.” One set of units might have white cabinets while another set might have the quartz countertop look.

“Most of our clients are looking for that ‘high-end sleek modern look and feel,’” said Elaine Chavez, business manager at ALX. Park 12 offers plank flooring, private patios and balconies, polished chrome fixtures and full-sized washer/dryers. “Smart locks and smart intercom systems have been a huge hit,” a spokesperson said.

Kingi, the representative for Lennar’s Shift and Luma properties, said residents are looking for elegant kitchens and bathrooms as well as smart home features.

Some buildings try to set themselves apart with customer service. Lennar’s buildings have concierge services.

Adjusting to Current Events

The arrival of COVID-19, of course, has affected luxury apartment dwellers as much as any other community in San Diego County.

With the new emphasis on social distancing, many building managers are offering access to common areas using reservation systems. A person wanting to use a gym or a pool can choose their own time slot, eliminating crowding and letting tenants keep their distance from one another. Some in-building gyms alternate exercise times with short breaks that let employees clean equipment, Benzian said.

Working from home, of course, has become part of the new way of doing business. A Park 12 spokeswoman said potential lessees are looking at apartments increasingly with an eye toward that idea.

“They’re planning in advance, because they don’t know how long this will last, and whether they might be working from home for the long term,” the spokesperson said.

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