In the competitive high-end downtown Boston condominium market, the gold standard for amenities can be summed up in two simple words: room service. By pairing luxury hotels with condominiums, pioneering projects such as the Residences at Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons Hotel have been able to offer both striking appointments and to-die-for views along with 24-hour concierges and room service from on-site five-star restaurants.
As the market has recently softened, however, most observers expected developers to become less ambitious, trimming an amenity here and there, or downsizing floor plans. Instead, a host of high-profile developments like the Boston W Hotel and Condos, currently under construction in the Theater District, will continue to feature the potent hotel-condo mix, but with their own brand of elaborate amenities and services.
Included in this mix are developments that are asking, and in most cases getting, extremely high pre-occupancy prices—$1,600 per square foot at the Mandarin Oriental in Back Bay, $1,250at Battery Wharf in the North End, $975 at the Residences in the Inter-continental on the new Greenway.
By plowing ahead with high-priced projects, developers are targeting those who haven’t been affected by sagging markets, along with an influx of overseas investors eager to cash in their fast-rising Euros.
In addition to the condo-hotel pairings, a number of new developments, like the Clarendon in Back Bay, are trying to position themselves by providing hotel-quality services without the attached hotel.
At least one is offering an on-site brand-name spa for residents only, allowing owners to indulge in private yoga classes and order up in-room facials. Both strategies seek to raise the exclusivity bar for amenities, and make the respective projects stand out in a crowded high-end luxury condominium market.
“We’re starting to see more private, privileged services being offered with a public brand. It’s the newest thing,” says Anthony Longo Jr., founder and president of CondoDomain.com.
“They [owners] are looking for their own private or quick treatment right in the building,” he says.
At 45 Province on the edge of the Financial District, residents can enjoy a 24-hour concierge, valet parking and all the benefits of the well-known Exhale spa on-site without having to deal with hotel guests or the general public, according to David Epstein, president and chief operating officer of the Boston-based Abbey Group, which is developing the 32-story, 138-unit luxury high rise.
“We felt that intimacy and privacy were really important,” says Epstein. “You get all of the benefits that these projects that are connected to a hotel bring–restaurant and hotel service and spa—but you get that all without the chaos of strangers passing through,” he says.
Residents at 45 Province, where units range from $700,000 to $2.6 million, will be able to experience an on-site Exhale franchise—with subtle toucheslike a healing waters sanctuary, a mind-body gym, and rooftop meditation garden.
Owners will also receive complimentary memberships to the full-scaleExhale spa, which is a short distance away on Boylston Street. “We are providing our top-flight teachers and spa therapists that come over and do in-spa and in-room services. So in effect, it’s a satellite of Exhale,” says Exhale chief executive officer and founder Annbeth Eschbach.
The pairing of Exhale with certain high-end residential developments, says Eschbach, is a natural outgrowth of competition in luxury real estate.
“The real estate world has shifted dramatically and developers are looking for very strong brands that can truly deliver services that can differentiate or position their projects,” she says, notingthat Exhale also has a residents-only spa at Manhattan House on New York’s trendy Upper East Side.
New Partnerships Developing
The Exhale/45 Province link-up is continuation of a trend in which developers are forming ever more sophisticated partnerships to promote their brands, says Longo.
“They’re getting smart about partnerships with the right teams,” says Longo. “Whether it’s, ‘Hey, we’re going to do an agreement with this parking garage,’ or ‘We’re going to contract out and have a special membership fee with an Equinox Fitness Club.’ Even if it’s not right on-site, it’s happening,” he says, referring to The Clarendon’s “fitness concierge,” who will book personal training sessions for Equinox Fitness Club, located just one block away from the Back Bay 33-story residential tower.
Other examples of evolving partnerships, says Longo, include the subscription rental company Zipcar deploying upscale autos, like BMWs, at some downtown condos. And even more expensive rentals, like Maseratis and Ferraris, may soon be coming downtown. Area developers, says Longo, are talking with John Kerrin, founder of the luxury car rental service, The Otto Club. “I have seen some developers start to circle around,” he says.
Surveying the past half decade, Longo sees the most active growth of partnerships in the brand name fitness club arena. “The professionally managed on-site fitness club was the biggest thing in the past five years. Everyone was putting in fitness centers or private workout rooms. But to bringan LA Sports Club or Equinox into these buildings, that was the big fad the last five years,” he says.
Longo says the introduction of name-brandspas into condominiums “was the next natural step” for developers.
The Residences at Battery Wharf, slated to open later this year on the waterfront in Boston’s North End, will feature the Paris-based Guerlain as its in-house spa. The spa will feature the usual assortment of hair, skin and nailcare plus advanced hydrotherapies that run from high-pressure jet to underwater massage, says Francois Niuvaud, a consultant to Battery Wharf and former managing director of the Boston Harbor Hotel.
In-home spa treatments will also be available to condo owners, who automatically receive spa membershipswith their purchase.
The membership-based spa will be open to the public, but condo owners will get certain privileges when trying to book a treatment block, says Niuvaud. “If I’m a resident I will have a priority,” he says. “Being a member, I can call almost anytime. I don’t have to wait two weeks out or whatever it is.”
Adding to the scope of amenities at Battery Wharf is its partnership with Regent Hotel, situated on the first two floors of Battery Wharf. The residencesare located from the third floor up and will have access to every hotel amenity, from on-site tailor and seamstress, to valet and concierge who can take on just about any task.
“I’m in my office in the Financial District and I realize I have to turn my oven on,” says Niuvaud. “I can go on the web and do it myself (the units features advanced web automation), or I can have my concierge do it.”
The concierge, says Niuvaud, can even enter the unit and put together needed items for a sudden trip. “If I get a call and I have to go to Paris or New York, I’m in my office and I onlyhave time to pack up my briefcase. I can have somebody pack my suitcase, bring it to my office and drive me to the airport. This is the kind of service that you can have when you have a hotel 24/7.”
Other unusual amenities result fromBattery Wharf’s location on Boston Harbor. Boat slips are available for those with suitable vessels, and on-call water taxis can whisk residents directly to Logan Airport or the nearby Financial District, where many are expected to work.
Rounding out the amenities are a number of on-site restaurants, the most intriguing being Sensing, headed by three-star Michelin chef Guy Martin, who once was a chef at Le Grand Vefour on Palais Royal in Paris. Martinwas lured to Boston by Niuvaud, who had known the chef for years.
The ability to lure a chef of Martin’s magnitude to Boston brings up the question of Boston’s place in the pecking order of real estate development. Conventional wisdom has portrayed the Boston real estate market, and its amenities, as an “echo” of New York’s, with The Hub behind theBig Apple by three or four years. But with the Boston Red Sox outbidding the New York Yankees for Japanese pitcher “Dice-K” Matsuzaka and then displacing them as the team to beat on the baseball diamond, some think Boston real estate might be catching up also.
Longo notes that The Hub has lagged behind its rival to the south in amenities but says, “We’re increasingly catching up.”
And Niuvaud, who lived in New York for many years, is willing to go even further. “Life in New York is great, but life in Boston is even better,” he says.