About 15 people turned out Monday for the RTCP-sponsored tour of the nearly complete 630-bed Mazza GrandMarc graduate student housing community in northern College Park. Half of the City Council was in attendance along with interested community members and the press. Each got the opportunity to tour the complex’s different unit configurations (1-4 bedrooms), check out the communal amenities (pool, weight-room, study areas), see the extensive stormwater management system in the rear of the building, and walk down the new community trail connection to the Paint Branch Stream Valley.
The consensus seemed to be that the building’s interior was quite nice and high end. The unit layouts are a bit larger than other newly-constructed student housing in the area. They also boast 9-ft ceilings, sweeping forested views, furnished rooms, and higher-end kitchens. There was some grumbling about the rental prices which range from $889 to $1560 a bed depending on whether you’re talking about a 4br unit or 1br unit. That’s comparable to other similar new-construction private student housing complexes like University View and University Town Center…. but Mazza is in a decidedly less desirable location to those buildings. Its is close to the beltway and CP grocery store, but Mazza’s Route 1 facing 10,000 SF retail component is at least 2 years away and there aren’t tons of amenities in the immediate area… Shuttle UM will provide service to campus every 20 minutes during the day come fall.
Concerns were raised that rental prices were high for a project that was sold to the community during the development review process as a graduate student housing complex. Graduate students generally don’t have as much money as undergrads (whose parents often foot rent bills) and some are worried the complex will end up being predominantly undergrads. RTCP feels it’s important to remember that Mazza was always intended to be market-rate student housing. It’s not subsidized in any way and at a cost of$43 million, the developer has substantial loans to pay off. It also took considerable risk on their part and 10 years to get the project from concept to completion. Nobody is “making a killing” here. The developer is legally required to only lease to grad students until April 1 each year at which time they can (and did) open up leasing to undergrads. That said, many new grad students don’t enroll at UMD until April 15th. It shouldn’t be any surprise then that this building (which most people have never heard of) is currently only 10% leased for the Fall 2010 semester. Applications are now rolling in and many of the 1-br units are already filled.
Mazza has reserved 1/3 of its units in one section of the building exclusively for graduate students and is providing generous deals only for grad students including 10% off rent and reduced fees through its “Graduate VIP Program.” Mazza leasing agents predict about half the building will be grad students when all is said and done this fall. These measures go above and beyond what is legally required of the developer. Not only are they good faith efforts to deliver on the developer’s promise of a grad student community, but they also reflect the stiff competition that exists for student tenants in College Park. With 2,700 other designated student beds coming on line in College Park by Fall semester 2011, student rents will stagnate across the city. They have nowhere to go but down.