Is the Classic City Turning Commercial?

Uncommon is a new luxury student housing development in downtown Athens.

Uncommon is a new luxury student housing development in downtown Athens.

By:  Caroline Windham and classmates

Rooftop pools. Indoor basketball courts. Golf simulators. Personal gyms.

What sounds like a resort is actually where tens of thousands of college students across the country are choosing to live while they earn their degree.

Large-scale, luxury student living is a recent trend nationally, as well as in Athens, and can be described as “housing that focuses on providing students with amenities that facilitate a balanced lifestyle.” This type of housing is booming in Athens, but in the past year steps have been taken to slow this rapid growth, namely in the form of a moratorium imposed last spring.

With the moratorium still in place, and student enrollment increasing, downtown student housing could be affected.  According to a Forbes article with research conducted by Axiometrics, a company that conducts market research for apartments as well as for student apartments, lack of new supply in addition to strong job growth could mean higher rent for students and higher occupancy rates.

Briana Mastronardi, a senior at UGA, has lived in Uncommon, a luxury downtown apartment complex, for two years now.

“I do like living [downtown] because it is really convenient, but it is getting a little overpriced for what we get,” says Mastronardi.

Melissa Link, the District 3 Commissioner, has a different picture of what downtown Athens should be.  Luxury student housing has been a relatively recent trend in developments downtown. According to Link, luxury downtown apartment complexes began appearing about five or six years ago

“[The development] was purely student-oriented development and it really changed the face of our downtown.”

Back in 2016, Athens was named one of the “7 Under-the-Radar Apartment Markets” in the country according to Axiometrics.  By August of 2017, the University of Georgia ranked tenth among schools delivering the most off-campus student housing for the fall.  Over the past three fall semesters, Georgia has ranked in the top fifteen for schools, delivering the most off-campus student housing for the fall for the last three consecutive semesters.  

Yearly data:  2014 ,  2015 ,  2016 ,  2017

Yearly data: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

One of the reasons for increasing amounts of off-campus student housing is enrollment, and UGA is expected to see an increased growth in the freshman class next year if the trend from 2014-2017 continues.

Off-campus housing close to campus is a trend seen nationally in many other college towns. With this proximity comes prices that are much higher than those of student housing further away from campus. Nationally, growth in housing rent less than a half a mile away from campus is increasing, with the average rent being slightly under $700.  

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According to Google Maps, Georgia Heights, 909 Broad Street, The Mark, The Standard and Uncommon are all within half a mile radius from campus. In Athens, downtown living costs are similar to the national average for housing developments in a close proximity to campus.

Even with the moratorium still in place, there is a new development destined for downtown Athens that will be built on Mitchell Street. The project was approved by the Athens-Clarke County Commission despite the moratorium. However, this new development is being proposed as condominiums for retirees, and is not intended for students.

“Even though there has been a lot of community outcry against [building more student housing]... on the commission there is very little interest in heeding that community outcry,” says Link.

Link is opposed to more student development downtown, however, others like Jared Bailey, the District 5 Commissioner, are excited about the growth. Bailey believes the issues that Athens has downtown, such as parking, are just part of a thriving downtown community.

“Those problems [downtown] come with success,” says Bailey.

After Link was elected, the Athens Downtown Development Authority got contracted for a downtown master plan. However, parts of the plan have been derailed because of private development, such as the massive student housing projects downtown.

“Where there might have been a pedestrian corridor, there’s now a parking deck,” said Link.

“Where there might have been a green space, there’s now a building.”

With the face of downtown changing, and more students coming to UGA, Link doesn’t know what the future of downtown is.

“I don’t think we can legitimately call ourselves the Classic City anymore.”