A few days ago, Oregon State University students began moving into the Domain Corvallis, a massive complex in the northwest part of town alongside the new extension of Circle Boulevard.

The facility, built by Corvue Holdings, a Chicago-based privately held national real estate and development company that specializes in "purpose-built student housing," has 448 bedrooms available this fall while construction continues on the second phase. A total of 892 bedrooms will be available in the fall of 2020, when the second phase is completed, said Ryan Soderquist, a regional lease-up specialist with Asset Living, which is managing the project for Corvue.

The bedrooms, which are leased individually, range in price from $595 to $915 per month. All units are furnished, including a 50-inch smart TV. Parking is free unless you want a reserved spot, and at build-out there will be 636 bicycle parking spaces, four more than city code, with more than 360 of the spaces either covered or inside buildings. The complex includes a “social green space,” a community garden and a dog park.

Asset Living officials said that contemporary students are more academically oriented than some of their predecessors. And they have responded accordingly.

“As a developer, we constantly adapt to the ever-changing needs of students,” Soderquist said. “Lately, there has been a growing demand for academically focused resident events and amenity spaces. This has led us to focus on providing more study rooms, bringing in tutors for events, upgrading WiFi and numerous other focus items to accommodate our student resident population.

“All of our indoor amenities are open 24/7. If there is a group of students working late on a project or an individual working on an assignment, you might find them in our study room or open cyber cafe. We will have iMac and PC desktop computers available for students to use as well as free printing. Each of our four private study rooms and conference room have a TV with Apple & Microsoft Streaming capabilities. We want to ensure that students are making the most of their time with us and that we are giving them the tools necessary for them to success in their academic careers.” 

The complex will be staffed 24/7, with a “courtesy” patrol roaming the grounds. A city bus line has been re-routed to serve the Domain and the developers constructed a new multiuse path that runs down the east side of Circle Boulevard. The old path still angles north from Harrison Boulevard and dead ends at Duniway Drive, the main road into the new complex.

“Our primary focus is on providing exceptional customer service to our residents,” sums up Soderquist. “We know there are many housing options in the Corvallis area and realize that our customers have chosen to call Domain Corvallis their own. We feel it is our responsibility to live up to that choice and provide them with an exceptional living experience.”

Long time coming

Questions still remain about this project, which had a long gestation (see timeline at left). The 95-acre property, of which 25 acres is being used for the Domain, was the subject of annexation votes that go back to the last century and its approval required a bruising public process. Corvue is the third owner, following Campus Crest and Core Investments, other companies that specialize in housing for the student market.

Because no significant changes from the earlier approved plans were made no new public process was required when the property changed hands.

The questions include concerns about car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic, particularly on narrow, tree-lined Harrison Boulevard. City officials said that traffic studies will be required at buildout. Such studies will determine whether a four-way stop will be mandated for the Circle-Witham Hill Drive intersection (it’s a now a two-way stop favoring Witham Hill traffic) and whether the Circle-Harrison T-intersection will ultimately require a traffic signal (the complex is opening with a stop sign for those traveling south on Circle).

Also, there is a significant chunk of the 95 acres that will remain open space. During earlier iterations of the project discussions were held about donating the land to the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department for inclusion in the adjacent Witham Hill Natural Area, but those discussions currently are not active.

And then there are those “housing options” that Soderquist spoke of. The Domain is coming online at a time of seemingly relentless growth of student housing, in both small in-fill chunks and in massive complexes.

Since 2012 when Seventh Street Station and the Tyler Street Townhomes opened the city has seen a new complex open virtually every year (see chart at left). And the completion of phase two of the Domain in the fall of 2020 coincides with the opening of Washington Yards at Seventh Street and Western Boulevard. That’s 676 more bedrooms. Nearly 300 more students would be housed in the planned OSU upper division/graduate student project at Monroe Avenue and Ninth Street on the east end of campus. That is if it successfully surmounts all of its regulatory hurdles.

Counting Tebeau Hall, the 325-bed OSU dorm on Washington Way which opened in 2014, and that’s approximately 4,050 new bedrooms since 2012.

Yes, OSU has shown significant growth, with enrollment increasing by more than 10,000 between 1998 (14,166 on the Corvallis campus) and 2018 (24,290). But enrollment also fell 1.9 percent last fall (numbers for this fall will not be available until next month), with enrollment relatively flat in the previous few years.

That said, when you have about 25,000 students on campus, just a 1% enrollment spike means 250 more bedrooms are needed.

The tipping point?

Which leads to the $64 million question(s). How much student housing is too much? Will students who are currently living in townhouses, duplexes and other rentals flock to the new complexes  and leave the other rentals available to ease the demand piece of the pie?

The answers will reveal themselves over time, although builders, property managers and city officials all have ideas on what is happening and what might happen.

Daniel Mckenna Foster, the city’s new affordable housing planner, looked at the problem from the commuting angle, noting that “past surveys have shown that about 40% of work commuters ­would like to live in Corvallis but are not able to and 40% of the 21,000 commuters in 2017 ends up being around 8,000 people who wanted to live here but couldn’t. So demand still seems to be very high. “

Local builder Chris Saltveit said that “the major criteria with most students is price and location. The new developments are very nice and expensive. They will draw students, but they will not draw all of the students.

“The properties that are close to campus, priced a little less, clean and in nice condition will continue to rent well. Rents will probably stay flat for several years.”

Saltveit suggested that student-oriented rental houses might not be suitable to the non-student rental market.

“Most of these houses have high rent prices, with roommates splitting the rent, making it affordable,” he said. “The non-student, or family, would have to pay the entire rent solely. I think the non-student will continue to look elsewhere to rent.”

Bob Loewen, a former city housing official, also is a property owner with five units for rent.

“I think the new complexes will do well,” he said, “as they target a specific demographic that allows them to tailor their buildings and amenities in a way that other units don’t.

“Do we need any more of such units in the near term? I’d guess not, but like most things housing demand is cyclical and I personally do not believe universities will shrink in the near future.

“There is a continuing demand for rental property in Corvallis, so I don’t think the vacancy rate will change much. If anything the rental prices of mid-range units may stabilize, maybe even drop a bit, while the lower end will continue to slowly rise.”

Dawn Duerksen, property manager with Duerksen & Associates, said, “I think we will see the biggest impact next year when we are all renting finished units.”

“I personally think rent prices are starting to stabilize, (but) I am not sure they will go down to the point where people will agree (they) are reasonable. But to be fair all of this new construction is going to be rented for more than rentals that have been on the market far longer.”

One longtime Corvallis builder, who preferred anonymity, noted that the Corvallis market is linked to that of Philomath and that policymakers and property professionals need to consider the impact of the Boulevard and Oak Springs complexes just west or Corvallis.

“I have to believe the onslaught of huge apartment complexes will ease the housing shortage significantly,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine that vacancy rates won’t inch up at least a bit with all this inventory coming online at once.

“However, I do believe that there is some pent-up demand. These large players are betting on it for sure. At some point, it’s going to really impact vacancies. Precisely when, who knows?”

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.