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Posted on Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Fierce competition: Downtown Ann Arbor high-rise apartments wield lavish amenities to attract tenants

By Lizzy Alfs


The architect's rendering of Landmark, located at 1300 South University Ave., as approved in October 2008.

Ann Arbor web archives

See related story: Two under-construction student high-rises begin signing leases in anticipation of fall 2012 opening

A state-of-the-art fitness center in your basement. A flat-screen HDTV mounted to your wall. A movie theater, a billiards table and even dual hot tubs.

Downtown Ann Arbor’s flashy new student high-rise apartment complexes are wielding a wide assortment of lavish amenities in a fierce competition to attract tenants — even as rental prices reach as high as $1,745 per bed.

With two new high-rise apartment towers expected to open in fall 2012 and many students ready to sign leases for the next academic year, the battle for leases has kicked into high gear.


4 Eleven Lofts is on the northeast corner of East Washington at South Division.

Melanie Maxwell |

Downtown high-rises  

Sterling 411 Lofts
  • When it opened: Fall 2009
  • Address: 411 E. Washington St.
  • Beds: 343
  • Stories: 10
  • Price range: $800-$1,625
  • Amenities: Billards table, tanning beds, study room, fitness center    
Zaragon Place
  • When it opened: Fall 2009
  • Address: 619 E. University Ave.
  • Beds: 248
  • Stories: 10
  • Price range: $975-$1,650
  • Amenities: High-definition TVs, fitness center, energy efficient appliances, indoor parking
  • When it will open: Fall 2012
  • Address: 1300 S. University Ave.
  • Beds: More than 600
  • Stories: 14
  • Price range: $975-$1,745
  • Amenities: Tanning beds, yoga studio, fitness center, movie theater, game room
Zaragon West
  • When it will open: Fall 2012
  • Address: 401 Thompson St.
  • Beds: 199
  • Stories: 14
  • Price range: $1,100-$1,650
  • Amenities: Fitness center, indoor parking, high-definition TVs

The properties are targeting U-M students with cash to spend and a disdain for traditional student housing.

High-rise construction projects Zaragon West and Landmark are expected to open next fall. Collectively, they’ll add about 800 new beds to the student apartment market in downtown Ann Arbor.

They join two new high-rise apartment complexes that have brought 600 beds onto the market within the last few years: Sterling 411 Lofts at the corner of Washington and Division and Zaragon Place on East University Avenue.

Meanwhile, Bethesda, Md.-based developer Potomac Holdings is proposing a new 13-story development on East Washington Street called The Varsity, which would add about 400 more beds if it wins approval from Ann Arbor City Council.

Property owners and leasing managers said the new high-rise apartment complexes have sparked an intense competition for tenants. One of their prime selling points: the lush amenities. University of Michigan students who sign leases for the 14-story Landmark development — formerly called 601 Forest, located at 1300 S. University Ave. — will be able go to a yoga class followed by a tanning bed session, all without leaving the building.

Zaragon West, which is located at 401 Thompson and is a sister property to the 10-story Zaragon Place, boasts of being a “technologically advanced, green high-rise community” on its website. With a fitness center, indoor parking, high-speed Internet and flat-screen TVs, Zaragon West hopes students are willing to pay the $1,100 minimum price per bedroom.

Chicago-area developer Rick Perlman of Zaragon Inc. said the “quality of construction is amazing” at both Zaragon towers, and he believes he’s offering the two best locations and the best products. He also doesn’t anticipate a problem filling the 200 beds at the 14-story Zaragon West.

“The people who live at Zaragon Place love it, and it’s been terrific and highly successful,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of beds coming on [the market], but we think we’re going to have success at Zaragon West.”

With a minimum price per bedroom of $975, Landmark offers students amenities such as hot tubs, a fire pit, a bags toss court, free tanning beds, a billiards table and shuffleboard, and a 27-person movie theater.

Open since fall 2009, Sterling 411 Lofts offers similar amenities at a minimum price of $800 per bedroom, including a fitness center, study room, billiards table and high-definition TVs in each bedroom. Sterling 411 Lofts will also be adding free tanning beds to its amenity package in the coming months, said Mark Foraker, senior vice president of Houston-based The Dinerstein Companies, which owns the property.

“That’s definitely in direct response to what some of the other high-rises are coming into the market with,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we stay competitive.”

In addition, high-rise developments are turning to ground-floor retail that will appeal to the student population.

On its first floor, 411 Lofts is boasting about a soon-to-open market launched by Sava Lelcaj, owner of downtown Ann Arbor’s Sava’s Restaurant.

“Anybody that walks in the door, we make sure to highlight [the market],” Foraker said. “It’s a great amenity. There’s a lot of value there.”

Perlman said Zaragon West will have a “very interesting” restaurant in the first-floor retail space on the corner of Thompson and East William streets.


An artist's rendition of Zaragon Place 2 shows what the proposed 14-story apartment building at William and Thompson will look like by night.

Image courtesy of Neumann/Smith Architecture


The outside of babo: a market by Sava, which is set to open on the first-floor of Sterling 411 Lofts in November.

Lizzy Alfs |

“It’s a restaurant that’s very well known in Detroit,” he said. “I think everyone is going to be surprised and delighted and it’s going to be great for Ann Arbor.”

He also has a cafe and market called “revive + replenish” on the first floor of Zaragon Place.

Landmark will have several retail spaces fronting South University Avenue and South Forest, said JJ Smith, executive vice president of development and construction for Landmark property owner Campus Acquisitions, in an email.

“We anticipate signing a mix of quick-serve restaurants and convenience retailers to enrich the living experience in and around Landmark and the South University neighborhood,” Smith said.

Adding to the competition for students is the University of Michigan’s new dormitory at the corner of State and Washington, a $175 million, 450-bed complex called North Quad that opened in fall 2010. The dorm has quickly become a popular spot for U-M students, with the dining facility overflowing with lunchtime diners who reportedly have to sit on the floor at times.

The mix of new competitors and U-M’s stated intention to reduce enrollment next year is causing high-rise developers to go the extra mile to lure tenants quickly.

And fueling the competition even more, the leasing offices for Zaragon West and Landmark are just steps away from one another on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

But since the high-rises are competing to sign leases, developers are aware that in addition to offering amenities, they must design creative marketing campaigns to reach potential student tenants.

For example, Landmark recently sponsored a fraternity tailgate party, designed “Live at Landmark” T-shirts and distributed specially marked sunglasses.

Perlman of Zaragon Inc. said it’s extremely important to “get the word out” about Zaragon West. He said he’s advertising around the U-M campus, putting banners on the under-construction building and reaching out to students via a website and Facebook page.

“You definitely have to advertise these things and market them,” he said.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at


Kara H

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

In all the coverage of these high-rise student housing developments, the "per bed" designation always catches me. I've looked at some of the floor plan drawings and what I think that phrase unpacks to mean that these "apartments" aren't really apartments, but really private dorm rooms and suites, with limited space and underdeveloped internal spaces, like kitchens, baths, studies, etc. Maybe someone who knows better can weigh in with another interpretation. The only reason I bring it up is that I don't like the fact that if this is the case, as it seems to be, it will be difficult during the life of these "apartment" buildings to ever re-purpose them for anything other than single student living (alone or in groups). The configurations I've seen are not well suited to families or young professionals looking to live downtown. This is a real problem and limitation of these developments IMO because, if we can be certain of nothing else, we can be certain that the economy and student enrollment rises and falls and the city changes with those rises and falls. It's only tangentially related to this article, but that "per bed" designation gets me every time I see it. Amenities notwithstanding, I wish these buildings had to potential over time to be more than private, in-city dorms.


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 2:47 a.m.

This is ridiculous reporting. Who cares how "lavish" the apartments are? They are not being paid for with state funds. They are being paid for by private funds by private individuals. It's nobody's business. Do we need to know how lavish the amenities are in your home, apartment or condo? This just incites the anti-UM crowd, who refuses to acknowledge that Ann Arbor wouldn't exist in its current form without the university. It is the largest employer in the county - bigger than the next 24 employers combined. Those employees likely live in the city or county and pay taxes there: property, sales tax, income tax, etc. They support business in Ann Arbor daily. The students pay millions to live, eat, and yes drink and be entertained here. The health system is nationally recognized as Is the research function - all with the people it pays. Get it?

say it plain

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 3:10 a.m.

Oh please...this is a new form of development in the city, and a new form of business activity on our downtown streets is selling the units. Of course it's relevant news and of course the relationship between--as you point out--the biggest employer in the county and the city in which it is located is of interest to many people. This isn't one UM-affiliated family renovating a house to include 'amenities' lol, it's a huge trend in downtown development...this article makes it easy to "get" that.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 11:55 p.m.

how do these fine young people have a party on Fri or Sat nite in these "units?" I attended the Univ, we studied like crazy but wanted to hangout on the weekends and have parties...what the heck are amenities for? Young people should be growing, learning, talking with their peers, developing ideas for society and themselves. Amenities sounds though their parents will think it's a better place....that's it!-appeal to the people with the money.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 11:18 p.m.

450 beds for $175m? Eesh.

Nikki River

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

It's about time someone figured out how to siphon off some dollars from the mega-rich who buy their children's admission into the University. The Ivy League cities have been doing it for centuries.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 10:09 p.m.

Me thinks People have too much money!


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

Me thinks you have the option of being in that same position if you're jealous.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

Any comment from Jeff Helminski, Campus Village Communities, or Titanium Real Estate in regard to how they plan to make of go of City Place in this flooded student housing market with reductions planned in the student body population? City Place is proposed to have six-bedroom units--with a fourth of them being below ground, yet rents are reportedly going to be comparable to the high rises? One can't help but wonder if students might not prefer to stay in one of the newly renovated dorms, or the brand new North Quad dorm instead. All these other projects have 4 bedroom units at the most, plus all the amenities mentioned. A recent survey of students conducted by the City revealed that less than 5% of students preferred anything larger than 4 bedrooms. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 7:47 p.m.

Obviously tuition is too low for some parents' fat pocketbooks. UofM should double tuition and use all the extra revenue to dramatically expand need based, 4 year guaranteed scholarships.


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 4:48 a.m.

Someone loves getting free-rides. What happened to personal financial responsibility? I bet you want to occupy wall street.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

Much as I love our U of M and EMU students, these'll be instant slums in a few years. Most students don't care to clean or keep up their apts. and they will destroy these places. Landlords won't want to do the constant upkeep and slums will follow. Sorry to be so pessamistic, but experience talks.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 3:43 p.m.

Back in the day, 7 guys packed in a run down house, with a sink full of dirty dishes for weeks, stained carpets, and a refrigerator packed with beer for Friday and Saturday night parties was nirvana. I wouldn't trade those days for one of these 'amenity' filled student apartments.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

If the developers could look beyond the obvious target population, they would see a growing number of graduate students living in Ann Arbor with and without families. These students want central campus living, too - and are here 12 months out of the year (hear: paying rent) rather than 8. Some are as broke as undergrads, but an increasing number are returning from careers and have financially prepared themselves for living expenses. Tailoring amenities and environments to this group could be most lucrative!


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

what's with the tanning beds being called an &quot;amenity?&quot;


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 11:38 p.m.

You think they should be standard, rather than amenities, in all apartment rentals?

Andy Price

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

What, you're not amenable to Cancer?

say it plain

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Wow, this will be fun, eh?! Ann Arbor's landscape and skyscape changed bigtime with these giant student towers and now the developers are getting a little worried that they won't even fill 'em up! We should start imagining what their 'second uses' will be...senior assisted living facilities? &quot;Affordable&quot; workforce housing? The people who sold these development ideas to the banks are just worried about the marketing for the first couple rounds of leasees, because after that they'll be pretty much divested...but will there need to be forever-campaigns on the main streets of Ann Arbor to convince the next crops of UM students to park their behinds in this or the other tower while they earn their degrees?! What a boring sad bazaar it will be on these formerly 'town-oriented' streets....

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

Wish these rich students would buy houses and help the local housing market rather than feeding rich fat cats from other cities while they destroy the former downtown with skyscrapers, more restaurants, wind tunnels and drunken students tripping home at night. Who ever thought it was a good idea to increase the height of buildings in downtown? I like the student neighborhoods near campus better than these containers.


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

The City had to increase the height of buildings in downtown in order to increase the tax base. The city is saturated to in order to increase city's income either more taxable property has to be built or the taxes on the existing property has to be raised.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 10:57 p.m.

I love this town, but the worst thing about it is the people like this guy who want to stop anything from ever changing.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

For those who cannot afford these rents, there will be the City Place 5-bedroom, no kitchen flop houses. Can you imagine? 5+ college students in one apartment, none ever wanting to clean the common area. Positively Dickensian. Maybe that will appeal to English majors?


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 11:47 a.m.

Hopefully these are not the same students who wish to have the government do away with their student loans.

Andy Price

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

Financial aid would not come anywhere near covering this amount of rent.


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 10:57 a.m.

if u can afford 1700.00 a month fine.

Cosmic Ray

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

These places will put some of our long time &quot;slum lords&quot; out of business.