National real estate firm revives student apartment project near Fred Meyer

A national real estate investment company is preparing to break ground in the Puget neighborhood and revive a student housing project that ceased when Campus Crest Communities Inc., another national real estate investment firm, left town last November.

CA Student Living, a subsidiary of CA Ventures, bought land south of Lakeway Fred Meyer between Interstate 5 and Lincoln Street in January and plans to construct housing for hundreds of students by fall 2016, said John Diedrich, CA Ventures’ VP of Investments. He said in late March that the company hopes to start construction in a couple weeks on 13 buildings with 230 units and about 640 bedrooms.

The site is west the future Lincoln Commercial Center between Lincoln Creek and the freeway.

The rentals will cater to students, but also multifamily renters, Diedrich said. The company is still developing a plan for the rental cost of the apartments.

CA Ventures bought the property from Campus Crest, a North Carolina-based firm that acquired it in 2013 and planned to build 10 apartment buildings with 216 units and 584 beds on the site by this fall. Campus Crest sold the site, along with eight other undeveloped sites throughout the country, as part of a cost-cutting plan aimed at boosting value for its shareholders.

CA Ventures bought two parcels totaling 15 acres from Campus Crest Bellingham for $4.5 million on January 21, 2015, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s website. The properties are at 1251 Lincoln St. and 1617 E. Maple St.

Diedrich said enrollment numbers at Western Washington University and other factors attracted the company to Bellingham. Western has about 15,000 students, and on-campus housing for 4,000.

“There is just not a lot of space for new development and really no national players in the market,” he said.

CA Student Living manages apartment buildings in Chicago; Eugene, Oregon; and Tucson, Arizona. Its closest project to Bellingham is an eight-story, 206-unit apartment building across the street from the University of Washington in Seattle.

The project will be similar to the proposed Campus Crest project but some buildings will be reconfigured to better account for topography, Diedrich said. One building on the site will include a commons building in addition to apartments.

Before abandoning the site, Campus Crest received approval on several building permits from the City of Bellingham. Kathy Bell, City of Bellingham planner, said CA Ventures’ proposed project is similar enough to Campus Crest’s plans that the firm can begin construction on some parts of the site, including stormwater facilities, without resubmitting permits for the work.

CA Ventures, in partnership with Wanxiang American Real Estate Group— the domestic real estate arm of Chinese auto parts manufacturer Wanxiang Group Inc. — and Core Investments, acquired six former Campus Crest properties, according to a press release from CA Student Living. The properties are in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Allendale, Michigan; Tempe, Arizona; Sacremento, California; Boca Raton, Florida; and Bellingham.

There are multiple projects going on south of Fred Meyer. The CA Student Living housing project is at the northeastern edge of the area between Lincoln Street and Interstate 5.

Adding 640 bedrooms to Bellingham could make a dent in the tight apartment market, said Giovanni Isaksen, CEO of Ashworth Partners, a Bellingham-based real estate consulting firm.

Bellingham’s apartment vacancy rate was 1.3 percent last September, according to a survey by the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. Washington had an average apartment vacancy rate of 3.5 percent, according to the study. The national apartment vacancy rate was 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to real estate research firm Reis Inc.

“If you consider that there are 17,000 full-time students between Bellingham Technical College, Whatcom Community College and Western, 640 is not a huge,” Isaksen said. “But I would expect to see vacancies trend up a little bit.”

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