Whether or not to include an amenity center is a common decision our clients must make. While there’s no right or wrong answer, the best way forward is the one that balances developers’ revenue needs with buyer expectations. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to decide if your project should include an amenity center, along with design best practices that will help you align amenity programming to your target market.
Table of Contents
- What Is an Amenity Center?
- What Are the Minimum Requirements for an Amenity Center?
- What Are the Advantages of an Amenity Center?
- How Can I Build an Amenity Center With Buyer Appeal?
- Final Thoughts
What makes a great amenity center is evolving. The good news for developers is that an amenity doesn’t have to simply be a pool, spa, and rec center (though buyers still love pools — more on that below).
The reality is that rising costs are changing builders’ budgets and priorities, which also affects amenity construction and community programming. “Builders really have to understand their markets, and the decision to do an amenity center is often driven by that aspect, especially in today’s world where there is so much focus on attainability and affordability,” said KGA Partner and Director of Design John Guilliams.
As a result, communities are getting denser and homes are getting smaller. Research shows buyers are willing to sacrifice space if they can create “home” in their community amenities. It’s also worth noting there are some innovative things happening in amenity center design and development that span project types and home price points. And amenities are not just for master-planned communities. There are options for smaller and entry-level communities that are lower in cost but still offer good value. It’s an exciting time in amenity design and development, and we will offer a few suggestions below to help fuel your team’s creativity.
Before we dive into amenity center design best practices, let’s address some of the foundational requirements first.
One of the most common questions we’re asked is if there is a minimum number of homes required to justify an amenity center. “Every community should have some sort of an amenity,” said Guilliams. “What is done beyond that depends on the target market and price point. Absorption rate should also be considered.”
Beyond whether or not costs pencil out for a particular project, there are no hard minimum unit requirements, but the size and scope of an amenity should align with the total number of anticipated households. An Olympic-sized pool and 10,000 square foot community center would be out of place in a 100-unit neighborhood the same way a studio-style fitness center can’t support a master-planned community. When planning an amenity or community center, consideration of scale is essential.
When it comes to timing the construction of an amenity or community center, the sooner you show progress the better. It builds trust among early buyers (who are great sources of referrals) and assures them you’re serious about following through on the promises you’ve made about the community.
Once you’ve determined an amenity’s general scope and scale, you’ll need to understand any requirements already in place from the local jurisdiction. Governing entities include but aren’t limited to metro districts, city planning and zoning, and community design review boards. This is the set of parameters in which your team will work. The good news is that there is often a lot of fun and creativity that can happen within this framework.
Last but not least, the amenity center should serve the community’s target market(s) and future residents. Amenity programming should reflect the residents’ lifestyle and life stage. The amenity collection should align naturally with the community’s theme and residents’ interests.
Creates market differentiation
After evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of specific homes in different communities, the lifestyle promise can often act as a powerful differentiator. In other words, amenities can help set your communities apart and sell homes. All the better if the amenity and programming are features buyers want and can’t find anywhere else.
Builds healthier communities
Amenity center benefits to residents are social, emotional, and physical. Providing a central gathering place to connect with neighbors and socialize fosters a sense of belonging and well-being. People desire recreational and social destinations close to where they live. Bonus points if the amenities are within walking and biking distance. An amenity center encourages residents to get outside, get physically active, and get socially connected.
Helps sell more homes
In a master-planned community with a 10 or 20 year plan, an amenity near the welcome center (or including a welcome center within the amenity) becomes a marketing and sales asset. Prospective buyers can see and experience the active and engaging lifestyle that awaits them in a way that a brochure or sales sheet can’t communicate.
Start the design process by mapping out the project’s requirements and constraints as mentioned above. Use that framework to inspire creativity and think bigger (bigger ideas, not necessarily size and scale). Guilliams also stresses the importance of thinking outside the structure. “When programming amenities, it’s not just the community center, it’s the amenity package for the whole community.”
With these things in mind, here are some amenity center design ideas and best practices we work through with some of our own clients:
Let your buyer research inspire your team’s creativity. Mine your target market demographics to make some early determinations about ages, stages of life, lifestyle, interests, and hobbies.
Our design of the Southshore Community Center in the established Aurora, Colorado, master-planned community focuses on all-ages engagement. Based on its zoning requirements, Southshore needed to increase its amenity offering to serve its growing number of homes and households. Our design features a 9,000 square foot community center to house classes, entertainment, educational opportunities, and special events. The two distinct pools (one with a family-focus featuring a zero-step entry area and splash pad, the other an 8-lane competition style pool) are popular destinations for all residents to enjoy.
Look to other nearby developments to discover areas of opportunity in amenity design. Identify amenity types that are overrepresented as well as features and programming that are missing.
In the age-targeted community of Sonders Fort Collins, the development team recognized that 55+ buyers desired ongoing education experiences in engaging social environments. The typical rec center design available in nearby communities was no longer a good fit for this type of programming preference. Our team created an abbreviated campus-style amenity with smaller studios for more intimate educational gatherings, classes, and seminars.
A way to create a unique amenity is to design it in a way that accentuates certain features of the terrain. Features can offer recreation, relaxation, and a sense of wonder that allows residents to connect with nature.
For example, hiking, walking, and biking trails are popular and have lasting buyer appeal, and they tend to get more frequent use when they lead to destinations. This can be as simple and beautiful as a sweeping view, or something nostalgic and fun like a hilltop that doubles as a sledding hill in winter.
In the case of the Candelas Swim and Fitness Center, we took advantage of its incredible, wide-open vista location. Orienting the pool area and outdoor lounge spaces toward the mountains created a spa-like getaway without residents having to leave home.
Memorable amenities are often those that reflect the community’s personality and lifestyle promise. Bold and playful amenities are also helpful marketing assets and what get the most buzz.
To support the community’s outdoor-focused lifestyles, a self-service bike maintenance station serves the residents of The Great Park Neighborhoods in Irvine, California. In Humble, Texas, Mini Groves at The Groves is a childrens’ playground that is a small-scale replica of the community’s amenities. Designed for toddlers and young children (who also contributed their design input!), Mini Groves plays into the master plan’s family-focused programming.
Pools remain popular, especially in larger and master-planned communities. They still occupy the top spot in John Burns Research & Consulting’s most recent master-planned community survey.
If you have the funds for a pool, including one in your amenity programming is almost always a good idea. If it doesn’t pencil out, consider a smaller-scaled water feature, especially if the community targets young families.
People lead increasingly sedentary and siloed lifestyles. Feelings of social isolation are at an all-time high and can negatively impact people’s mental and physical wellbeing.
The creation of third places can help reduce this alarming trend. The third place concept is a public gathering space that is close to home where people feel comfortable and welcomed. The idea is to get people out of their homes and become active participants in their communities.
A third place is a hangout where people can go to meet others or be alone in a social setting, the proverbial place where everyone knows their name. In a new development, a central hub can take the shape of a neighborhood coffee shop that serves breakfast, a wine-tasting room that’s hosted by a local vintner, or a tap room that serves up the latest local brews.
Sustainable communities are those that improve the health and quality of life for all residents regardless of age or ability.
Consider reducing car dependence throughout the community with trails that connect neighborhoods and amenities. For example, decentralizing some amenities can activate smaller open spaces, like pocket parks, dog parks, and community gardens.
Costs and awareness of the effects of climate change are fueling more buyer interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. A smart grid powers most outdoor amenities and the security system at Sonders Fort Collins. Evernew Park features energy-producing solar flowers and wind turbines. Also on site is a decommissioned oil pump that was remediated and painted by Colorado State University art students, creating a public art installation that symbolizes the replacement of traditional energy sources with renewables.
As the movement of multi-generational living shows no signs of slowing down, more developers are considering integrating an age-targeted subdivision into larger communities instead of separate 55+ developments. As such, amenities should be inclusive of different ages, abilities, and interests.
An amenity center can be an essential part of community placemaking. The most successful amenities not only help sell homes but often become beloved spaces in communities that are enjoyed for many years to come.
See more of our amenity center designs by visiting our project portfolio.
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