From The Edge to Sky Tower Suites

By Mike Velez, STAFF WRITER
On February 16, 2011

A privately owned property across the street from USF is preparing to reap the benefits of a unique agreement with the University.

Sky Tower Suites, formerly known as The Edge and Fontana Hall, is an apartment complex designed for student housing located on the east corner of Fletcher Avenue and 42nd Street. Though the building is not currently operational, Landmark Residential, which purchased the property in August, formed an affiliation agreement with USF on Friday.

Ana Hernandez, dean of Housing and Residential Education (HRE), said the agreement will provide the University with a solution for its overflow population, which includes graduate students, families and staff members.

"The advantage for the University would be to connect with a property that is able to serve a population that we are not currently able to serve under our current inventory," Hernandez said. "It also allows us to build a relationship so that we can have a positive impact on what the residential experience is, be it in a property that we own or a property that we have a relationship with off campus."

Hernandez said a major component of the agreement is its mutually beneficial "marketing referral aspect."

"By having the University's name affiliated with a property, there is value to a property in having that sort of an affiliation," she said.

The agreement requires safety issues to be addressed to the University's satisfaction, as well as having a space conducive to an academic environment, Hernandez said. The complex will provide some public gathering spaces, study lounges and computer access.

"We're excited about entering into this affiliation and being able to provide an alternative to an underserved population," she said. "We look forward to seeing how the property is going to be renovated."

Elizabeth Truong, chief investment officer of Landmark Residential, said the grand opening for Sky Tower Suites will be sometime in mid-April, with a plan to be operational by August, in time for the fall semester.

However, the agreement does not reserve rooms for the University.

"We will accommodate (the University) as much as we can, but there's no beds set aside for them," Truong said. "(The Suites) has 221 residential units of two bedrooms, with one shared bath and 13 studio units."

Amenities will include a convenience store, a dining facility, with meal plans for both residents and non-residents, a swimming pool, Wi-Fi access and a computer-business center, a fitness center, a laundry facility and study and lounge areas.

"(USF) gets … to provide overflow to residents who need housing and to be assured that they do have a top-notch management company representing them," Truong said. "Because the last thing they want is to refer their population over to a property that is completely mismanaged."

She said while USF will not have a voice in decision-making processes, the agreement can be terminated by the University to terminate it at any point if school officials are unsatisfied.

Landmark purchased the property from Carolina First Bank on Aug. 31 for $2.75 million. The property had fallen into disuse following the spring 2009 semester due to financial troubles incurred by BSP/Fontana Hall LLC, the ownership group that purchased the property in April 2004 from Fontana Associates LP.

Steve Schrimsher of Schrimsher Properties owned the building in a partnership with Steve Walsh.

"The total investment of that partnership was $3.65 million," Schrimsher said. "It wasn't a 100 percent loss, we did have some money returned as a result of income from the property, and so forth, before the occupancy dropped."

While USF did not deal with Schrimsher and Walsh's group, the University had a lease agreement with the property's prior ownership group, Fontana Associates LP, during the 2003-04 academic year.

"We rented four floors in Fontana Hall for (that) academic year," Hernandez said. "We closed a section of our community called The Villages, and we also had Beta (Hall) closed for renovation during that year, so our inventory dropped and we were looking for space in order to continue the residential environment."

USF doesn't own any share of the property under the agreement, and the University will not be held liable for any potential action incurred by the company. Hernandez said no monetary exchange occurred as part of the agreement.

While the partnership is unique, HRE is currently pursuing similar agreements with other privately owned housing complexes, Hernandez said.

"We anticipate that we'll be entering into more affiliation agreements over the course of the next year," she said.

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