The cinder-block dormitories and cramped, scruffy, off-campus apartments familiar to generations of college students are under attack.
As the rest of the housing market plods along, developers like Gilbane Inc. of Providence see luxury student living as a rare growth market for new construction and are charging ahead with posh college-apartment plans on or near campuses across the country.
“This isn’t Animal House anymore,” said Robert V. Gilbane, chairman and CEO of Gilbane Development Co. about the student-housing market. “It is the hottest real estate product in the country. These projects are huge hits and our goal is to develop several thousand units and hundreds of millions of dollars worth across the country.”
That includes its hometown, where the fifth-generation Rhode Island company wants to build a 102-unit, luxury student-apartment building on Thayer Street in the heart of Brown University and College Hill.
The project, known as 257 Thayer Street, will take up most of the city block between Thayer, Meeting Street, Brook Street and Euclid Avenue, replacing nine existing buildings that broadly resemble the old-school, off-campus student-housing mold that’s fallen out of favor.
In their place, across the street from the Avon Cinema, would rise a four-story building of furnished “suites,” complete with underground parking, Internet and flat-screen televisions.
If the project goes forward, Gilbane would own and manage the building and rent directly to Brown students, of which the company estimates that 1,600 undergraduates and 2,600 graduate students are now living off campus.
“The neighborhoods where we have built these love them because they pull students out of the residential neighborhoods,” Gilbane said. “257 Thayer would cluster 275 students in a four-story building around shops and restaurants.”
With the promise of construction jobs, a boost in property taxes and the elimination of eight parking-space-killing curb cuts, 257 Thayer appears to be on the fast track for city approval. It has already received the endorsement of the City Plan Commission and is now on its way to the City Council, where an ordinance subcommittee public hearing on the project was scheduled for June 26.
But Gilbane’s vision has not gone unquestioned.
The original rendering of the proposed building was described as monolithic by neighbors concerned about further institutionalization of what had been a lower-density area.