Five years ago The Complex was the generic Whispering Gardens Apartments placed in a rundown, income challenged neighborhood 12 miles south of The City. And no, before you ask, there wasn’t a garden in sight, whispering or otherwise. Then, with the economy on its inevitable, cyclical upward bounce, an enterprising developer bought Whispering Gardens and immediately announced a multi-million dollar, multi-month renovation project. The new name? UrbanEights. Sleek. Modern. Hip. I know you're wondering, why UrbanEights? Because we’re only a short train ride to The City and because the street address is 888 Terrace Blvd.
Millions of dollars were going to be invested in UrbanEights. Never mind the subway station next to door to the West and its related undesirables. Never mind the persistent homeless camped up and down the four-lane expressway to the East. And certainly never mind the bullet holes in the Shell station’s window directly across the street, on the Northern side.
Enterprising developer Jackie Bennett spent over a year studying the trends. She knew that even if the immediate neighborhood was crap, proximity to The City – and all the related vices The City provided – would ensure a high occupancy rate and low turnover.
She held a press conference, complete with ceremonial ribbon cutting and photo opportunities. Jackie wore a hard-hat, held the first pile of dirt on a gleaming gold shovel, surrounded by four local politicians, including the Mayor. She didn’t care that The City’s budget-strapped reporters didn’t show, nor did their rivals in surrounding communities. Only one local, county reporter made an appearance. But he was hungover and late. Jackie had planned for this lack of enthusiasm. Weeks before she hired the photographer, an ex-con who studied the craft while inside, and four local actors to play ‘reporters’ so she’d have a small crowd. She just wanted the pictures and press release for posterity. For the promise of what’s to come. I later learned this was her first real project without dad’s money or involvement. And in a new state, no less. What better way to signify her clean slate, her fresh start, than with photos of the event. Even if they were a bit staged.
Beyond this self-promotion, Enterprising Developer Jackie provided an unusual level of loyalty and trust with her existing tenants. At the presser, she announced that their rent would only increase 5%, not the 25% that new residents would pay. Only a small 5% bump to have access to the pristine pool with accompanying wifi lounge. 5% to enjoy the state of the art fitness center and adjacent community BBQ. She also guaranteed that the new rent wouldn’t be subject to increases for 18 months following completion. On the construction side, she built in strong financial incentives for the general contractor to get the job done ahead of time, not just on schedule. All without sacrificing quality and structural integrity, of course.
While the architectural model in the Leasing Office was impressive, the brochures showing 2D renderings of The Complex were equally slick. The modern UrbanEights Brookstone font was licensed specifically to convey upward mobility and success. The Complex has so much potential, it implied. The brochures screamed, “Look at me and my shiny new construction!”
But it was an unlikely trick up her silk blouse sleeve that caused 85% of existing occupants to stay on, including me. Jackie announced that UrbanEights would become a pet friendly residence, complete with a dog run on the Southern end. This approach was virtually unheard of in the real estate game. Whereas most saw four-leggeds as destroyers of property, as noisy nuisances, Jackie saw pure profit. Pet owners had disposable income. They were loyal and mindful of their animals and their surroundings. And they were willing to pay larger rental deposits than non-pet owners and accustomed to higher rents to account for their beloved Spike or Misty or Buddy.
And that’s how we met. Me scooping dog shit with a bright blue baggie while Stonewall pulled on his leash just as Jackie entered the leasing office, heels clicking on the new slate tiles, Fendi sunglasses hiding exquisite green-grey eyes.
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Ben's Note - After being a homeowner, a landlord, and a single-family detached home tenant, I'm now a resident in a luxury apartment complex, just minutes away from the subway, and several miles south of Oakland. Since moving in several months ago, I've been surrounded by a host of stories. The Complex is the first result from several inspirations and installments will appear every Wednesday through August.