St. Botolph building mimics GrandMarcs

By Derek Hawkins

GrandMarc at St. Botolph Street, the proposed 34-story privately owned residence hall that may tower behind the Huntington Avenue YMCA, is the largest, but is not the only facility of its kind.

Three other GrandMarc complexes, designed and constructed by Phoenix Property Co. and Lincoln Property Co., have been built in the past decade. Located in Riverside, Calif., Fort Worth, Texas and Minneapolis, Minn., they reveal what could become of the GrandMarc here if it receives Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approval.

Like GrandMarc at St. Botolph Street, the other private residence halls cater to students at nearby universities – GrandMarc at Seven Corners is near the University of Minnesota, Grand Marc is near University Village to the University of California and GrandMarc at Westberry Place is near Texas Christian University (TCU).

In 2005, within five years after they were built, Phoenix Property Co. sold GrandMarc at Seven Corners and GrandMarc at University Village for $28 million and $42 million, respectively, to GMH Communities Trust, a Pennsylvania housing company, said officials at the Minneapolis residence.

GrandMarc at Westberry Place, a 644-bed complex where construction ended last summer, will be turned over to TCU in 20 years as part of its building contract, said Lauren Jones, a GrandMarc leasing professional.

Regardless of their building contracts, however, GrandMarc officials said they maintain cordial relationships with their neighboring universities.

“We otherwise keep a minimal relationship with TCU,” Jones said. “We serve undergrads, grads and faculty, so we cater to them and their needs.”

An article in the Daily Skiff, TCU’s student newspaper, revealed a deeper partnership between university and GrandMarc officials.

According to the article, April 2006, TCU administrators provided the e-mails of rising juniors and seniors to employees at Phoenix Property Co. as part of a plan to bring more students closer to campus. TCU officials said most of the e-mails were taken from students who had signed up to receive GrandMarc information.

Brian Bierde, assistant manager of GrandMarc at Seven Corners, which was built in 2000, said GrandMarc and the University of Minnesota maintain a passive but mutually-beneficial partnership.

“We’ve done some co-marketing with [the university],” Bierde said. “Although we’re not affiliated in any way, they direct a lot of traffic toward us.”

Casey Peterson, GrandMarc at Seven Corners manager, said GrandMarc exchanged advertising space and housing market information with the University of Minnesota, but little more.

“We work with them to provide housing for different departments when it’s needed,” he said. “We allow them to put flyers in our buildings, we put flyers in their buildings, and they pass people along to us sometimes.”

GrandMarc at Seven Corners stands four stories high and contains 440 beds.

Housing officials at the University of Minnesota, which has an undergraduate population of about 32,000, declined to comment on the university’s relationship with GrandMarc at Seven Corners or Phoenix Property Co.

Feedback from tenants at the three existing GrandMarc buildings was difficult to obtain, since the occupants’ information is not made public. But comments posted on Apartmentratings.com and other similar websites indicate some level of dissatisfaction with the complexes, especially GrandMarc at University Village.

That residence hall, which houses 760 undergraduates at University of California Riverside, received a 26-percent approval rating on the website. Former tenants’ claims revolved primarily around staff and security problems.

“If you’re a freshman, sophomore, whatever at UCR and are looking for a great place to live, don’t even think about looking at GrandMarc,” one reviewer posted. Another complained of dirty conditions, poor safety measures and a lackadasical staff.

Prices at the GrandMarcs vary depending on the number of bedrooms in an apartment. The most expensive are furnished one-bedrooms, which cost between $1,190 and $1,340 per month. The least expensive rooms in four-bedroom apartments range from $550 to $839 per person monthly.

Jason Runnels, executive vice president of Phoenix Properties, insisted that prices at GrandMarc at St. Botolph Street will remain “competitive” with market averages.

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