written by EMILY LANDES

Golf simulators. Spas for people and their pets. Grand piazzas featuring the work of internationally renowned artists. This isn’t a list of amenities at the city’s newest round of high-end condo developments. They are just a few of the offerings that now come standard for San Francisco renters at some of the city’s top downtown high rises.

In the past, shared apartment ameni-ties were seen as a bonus, with the real draw being the unit itself. But, as apartment sizes shrink and comfort with the “share” economy grows, renters are really utilizing these common spaces and, in fact, now expect to see them as part of an overall amenities package. Far from being the icing on the cake,
onsite amenities have become critical components in selling tenants on a particular building, and the community
of renters who live there.

Value-Add Amenities
“We’ve found the amenity spaces to be increasingly important, especially in leasing up our newer projects,” said Justina Shutler of Emerald Fund, which both develops and manages apartment buildings in San Francisco. “A well-equipped gym and ample co-working space included in the rent gives prospective renters the opportunity to save on memberships elsewhere and really weighs on how much they can and are willing to pay for rent.”

A sense of value is important when charging around $3,700 for a one-bedroom with less than 650 square feet, as the Emerald Fund does in their newest project 150 Van Ness. Renters might not get a lot of personal square footage, but they do get ample common space, from the building’s movie theater to its expansive fitness facilities, including a three-story basketball court and yoga studio.

And don’t forget the outdoor spaces, because tenants won’t. “Aside from the gym and work lounges, outdoor space is the most popular—whether it’s a roof deck or courtyard,” Shutler said. 150 Van Ness has not one, but two roof decks—one of which comes equipped with a pizza oven. There’s also a bocce court, a “sun bathing lawn” and a 75-foot-long salt-water lap pool with hot tub.

Far from being considered an extra, these types of amenities are increasingly expected by the discerning clientele with their choice in high-end high rises. “Outdoor space is highly desirable and is typically expected by prospective residents in newer buildings,” she said. “Rooftop is always preferred. Who doesn’t love a great view?”

Outside Is In
The residents at 33 8th certainly agree with that sentiment, attests Amy Hull. The Trinity COO said that outdoor space tops the list of tenant requests at their newest building, which meets those demands and then some with its rooftop deck views of both the Civic Center neighborhood and the enormous open-air piazza below. “I think outdoor space is critical to our urban health and state of mind,” said Hull. “Clean, visually appealing outdoor space is in high demand. We pride ourselves on having created an urban oasis where people can relax and be inspired by world-class art, greenery and nature.”

The building at 33 8th is part of the larger Trinity Place project, which is centered around “Piazza Angelo.” It is named for the late founder of Trinity, Angelo Sangiacomo, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 91. A 92-foot-tall stainless-steel interpretation of the classic Venus de Milo sculpture—the largest in San Francisco—anchors the space. The piece was designed by famed artist Lawrence Argent, who died in 2017 and was known worldwide for his whimsical large-scale sculptures. The piazza was one of his final works. It has not only the towering “Venus” sculpture but also a 50-yard mosaic pathway through the gardens, peppered with 17 smaller, marble statues.

Much as Argent’s work in the piazza is a riff on classical elements, Hull said Trinity’s take on amenities emphasizes classic offerings like resident lounges and a well-equipped fitness center. “In San Francisco, value is important and we pride ourselves on not offering too many specific amenities that would only appeal to a portion of our renters,” she explained. “My experience shows that if renters do not utilize particular amenities, they don’t wish to keep paying for the options they don’t use. Being ‘over amenitized’ means you have to charge more and may hinder renewals.”

Shutler admitted that Emerald Fund took a bit of a risk with some of its more specialized offerings at 150 Van Ness, but that these common spaces have been even more popular than they imagined. “When designing the project, we were unsure if the golf simulator and theatre would be a hit and it turns out they are two of our most used spaces,” she said, adding that tenants have come up with uses for the areas that hadn’t occurred to the developers. “The theatre has actually been used for much more than recreation, [but also for] meetings, presentations [and more].”

Shutler added that other up and coming common amenities include entertaining spaces like chef’s kitchens and private dining rooms. “Given most apartments are very efficient in San Francisco, it’s a great way for residents to host and entertain guests outside of their small living space,” she said.

Creating Community
While many of these spaces can be rented out for private events, much of the draw of common areas is that they are open to the entire resident community. In fact, far from being a deterrent to using the spaces, having an area be available to all is part of its appeal. “The amenities provide residents an easy way to connect with others that share common interests,” Shutler said. “Check out any of the resident lounges or rooftop screening area during a Warriors playoff game for a perfect example.”

“Community is key,” Hull agreed, as is flexibility. “Each space becomes an extension of the home that each renter can use in a custom manner.”

Furthermore, Hull explained, common areas are particularly prized because they exist in a very special space somewhere between public and private. “A common area allows residents the option to work or enjoy time at home, and out of their home at the same time,” she said. “Space is at a premium these days and clean, comfortable and flexible common spaces are very valued.”

Emily Landes is a freelance writer and former editor of SF Apartment Magazine.