Las Vegas — Three real estate companies form JV to manage housing, increase occupancy and possibly develop in the future.
Las Vegas — At the start of the year, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) entered into a three-and-a-half year partnership with AVS Housing Group, a joint venture among American Nevada Company, The Vista Group and The Scion Group, to manage all on-campus housing. The university is counting on the private sector’s experience in commercial real estate and student housing to strengthen and update the way its housing operates and how it is perceived by students.
The American Nevada Company was founded by legendary Las Vegas Sun publisher and businessman Hank Greenspun. The company is known for bringing the first master-planned community to southern Nevada. The Henderson, Nev.-based Vista Group has developed retail, office, industrial, multifamily and single-family projects in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
The joint venture will manage and operate UNLV’s six-building residence hall system, which includes approximately 1,500 beds. The student head count on campus is about 28,000. UNLV will continue to own the residence halls and provide residence life, and students will have a contract with and pay their housing bill to the university. AVS will be in charge of marketing, leasing, room assignments, physical asset management and vendor management, among other obligations.
“All of this will be done with the goal of improving the overall performance of the on-campus housing portfolio,” says Eric Bronstein, executive vice president of The Scion Group, “which means improving efficiency and moving closer to full occupancy.”
As of last fall, occupancy was approximately 1,150 to 1,200 students occupying the 1,500 beds.
The partnership and the joint venture began in 2010, when UNLV selected AVS to assist the university with updating its master plan, including how to grow and develop housing over time.
“All of this started when we took a look at our campus, its housing plan and stock,” says David Frommer, executive director for planning and construction at UNLV. “We solicited outside expertise through a public RFP process to help us expand housing offerings and support more opportunities for a diverse array of students, faculty, staff and others.”
Currently, UNLV hosts a relatively homogenous type of campus housing, primarily developed for freshmen, that is concentrated in the southern part of campus. In addition to managing the existing housing, the partnership with the AVS Group will help the university advance toward the development of two potential new neighborhoods on campus that would include improvements in the existing southern area for lower-class or incoming students; the development of a potential neighborhood north of campus, near the law and sciences departments, focused on upper-division and graduate students; and a third possible development in the University Village area of campus that could provide what the university calls “move-up,” or apartment-style housing that would include retail.
The AVS Group began its relationship with UNLV with two initial consulting projects, in which recommendations for the six current halls wereimplemented, including the addition of communal kitchens. Bronstein says this upgrade alone increased demand for on-campus accommodations.
AVS will continue to recommend similar changes to the six buildings.
“We’re going to be a little more forward-leaning when it comes to spiffing up the facilities in a way that’s not a dramatic reconstruction, but adjusting them so they are more modern and comfortable.”
AVS will be paid a fee to manage the residence halls, but Bronstein says AVS does not profit off of any savings or cuts that may result.
“It’s a common fear when universities are talking about outsourcing anything or going into a private partnership that the profit motivation of the partner would lead to different priorities,” he says. “In the model we’ve adopted, we are partially going to be rewarded if occupancy improves, but we’re not taking money from cost-cutting or from eliminating staff or services or anything of that nature.”
The Scion Group has consulted on more than 100 campuses, performing feasibility studies, demand analyses and surveying and interviewing students to measure demand.
“We think we can make the whole operation more student-focused,” Bronstein says. “That’s what the private sector can contribute. We’re very market driven because we have to be everywhere else we operate. Our goal is to make the experience very customer friendly, so that it’s more like staying in a hotel than in an institutional housing environment.”
— Lynn Peisner