A Growing Partnership Means Growing Success in Student Housing
Like many successful ventures, what begins as a singular project can bloom into a long-lasting, fruitful enterprise when the right people get together. So is the story behind the partnership of SOMMA and Stoneridge Development.
Now working on two, large-scale projects at the national level, the team is setting the course for some serious growth as they continue to expand onto campuses across the country.
The story of this venture goes back to 2008. Matt Crape, founder of Stoneridge Development saw a unique opportunity on the growing campus of the University of New Hampshire. With student enrollment steadily increasing, the need for quality, affordable housing was rising. Crape, an alumnus himself, spotted a potential property at Jenkins Court. The property, a 37,500 square foot, four-story building had a lot going for it – great location, and ample size to accommodate housing, retail, and office space. It just had one flaw; the inside layout was a bit tricky to work with. The building had a bit of an odd footprint (as they say in the architectural world). When first touring the property, Crape remembers likening the layout to a “rat maze” – oddly formatted, and a logical flow just wasn’t there.
Crape remained optimistic. With the right design and remodel, the space could be a success. He knew the location was right. He liked the square footage. But how to transform it into something truly functional and beautiful? Additionally, the permit process was going to be a lot more complex than what he had encountered before. It was time to bring a designer on board. That’s when he phoned SOMMA.
SOMMA designer Jen Ramsey came out to meet with Crape to discuss the goals of the project. Immediately, something clicked. “I remember our first meeting,” Crape said. “We had a good connection from the start. We were similar in age, and both had a lot of young enthusiasm and passion. I felt right away that it was a good fit.”
The decision was made to bring SOMMA on board and the partnership immediately proved to be a success. Ramsey had already built a solid reputation with her savvy in the permitting process. Her swift and adept process with the plans at Jenkins Court proved no exception.
Furthermore, Crape was more than impressed with her ability to think outside the box to create a sensible, functional flow to the interior. “Jen’s work really impressed me,” said Crape. “I was very pleased by her timeliness, effective communication, and project management. And, frankly, I was blown away by her ability to very cleverly design an optimized interior within a very challenging building.”
The end result was the creation of University Downtown, a vibrant mixed-use space that houses 60 students and features several thriving retail establishments on the ground floor, as well as bright, thriving offices on the 4th floor.
UNH thought highly of the development of the off campus housing Stoneridge Development was responsible for, as it was deemed as a way to strengthen their own brand. The thought was, if you were a prospective student during orientation, there existed that “shiny penny” that you can see – some really nice housing to look forward to your junior and senior year. This development not only enabled the University to increase enrollment because there is now more available housing, it placed the confidence in Crape that the work he was doing with SOMMA was important, and that they had only just begun.
The partnership was solidified.
When it came time to begin his next project at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire SOMMA was – with no hesitation – his first call.
The project in Keene, which is called, “The Mills,” was another great conceptualized and constructed triumph. Once again, Jen helped the permit process move along seamlessly. At 72,000 square feet over the span of two buildings (both four stories in height), housing some 232 students The Mills was much bigger property compared to the project in Durham. The city loved her “mill inspired” design, feeling that it captured the historic essence of the town and would be the perfect aesthetic to accent the communal whole.
Crape remarked, “She did an amazing job. I’ve even had people ask me if we retrofitted and old mill building. It feels that authentic.”
With the overwhelming success of University Downtown and The Mills, Crape knew he was on to something. The student housing market was not only a ton of fun to work in, but also financially lucrative. So he began investigating other possible sites.
“We knew we wanted to find more opportunities. So we built a database. We put prospective locations through a routine data screening, looking at things like population size, demographics, etc. From there, we picked out a few dozen locations, then just started making phone calls to see what we could land. We ended up with about 5-6 really good options, then honed in from there to see what looked like the very best to focus in on. Through this, we located two incredible opportunities at Florida State University at Tallahassee, and The University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.”
Both new projects meant that the SOMMA/Stoneridge partnership was not only growing in size, but also becoming a national endeavor. “These projects really extend our scope,” said Crape. “Tallahassee is a top-tier market for developers. Not only is this project much larger (700 beds), the level of sophistication is getting higher and higher. Students in this market now demand the best of the best. I’m talking pools, hot tubs, saunas… the bar has been set very high.”
Ramsey sees this as an asset. “The design for Tallahassee was an inspiring challenge. On one hand, I could say that it was more difficult, but in that, there is greater reward.”
As far as the Chattanooga project is concerned, this is no small business either. Set to house around 500 students, with 225,000 total square feet of space, this project will showcase a sophisticated design set to offer the latest in technological and architectural features and a full-set of modern amenities, all the while blending seamlessly into the existing campus milieu.
When asked about the challenges of having two major projects going on at once, Crape points to his team. “This is what makes having the right people on-board so important. This is the very reason I have people like Jen. When it comes to the design phase of the project, I can trust that she’s going to get it done. To have a relationship like that – to be able to hand a project over to her and not have to worry about it – that’s the kind of teamwork that makes it all possible.”
Looking into the more distant future, beyond the completion of Tallahassee and Chattanooga, Crape sees many more projects on the horizon. “Momentum is really starting to build. With each project we get a little bit better. I see a bright future for us. And SOMMA will be there with us every step of the way.”