New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Staying Competitive in the Amenities Race

Sebastian Moll in Building Operations

New York City

Maintaining Amenities

When the architect Daniel Allen was asked to convert a cold-storage room in a Manhattan condo basement into a gym more than 20 years ago, he figured this sort of job would be a one-off. He figured wrong.

“I didn’t think that converting basement spaces into luxury amenities would be become such an important part of my business,” says Allen, whose firm, Allen + Killcoyne Architects, has done more than 100 such conversions in the ensuing years. “We have built children’s playrooms and meeting rooms, wine cellars, golf simulators, infinite pools, and even basketball courts.”

Today, faced with changing demographics in their buildings, many boards are altering or updating amenities that recently seemed cutting-edge but are suddenly out-of-date. In our May issue we reported on the “social room boom,” as many co-ops and condos have turned disused common areas into plush gathering spots with big-screen TVs, wireless access, upgraded kitchens and lounge furniture.

At One Beacon Court, a high-end Midtown condominium that opened in 2001, the original playroom was converted into a business center with desks and computers, since most unit-owners use their apartments as pieds-a-terre while working in the city without their families in tow. At +Art, a Chelsea condominium, a storage room for food deliveries was converted into bike storage space when the building filled with freelancing professionals, who are usually home to receive deliveries – and whose active lifestyles frequently included bicycling.

The race to add – and update – amenities is fed by the city’s rising wealth. According to city-data.com, the median household income has risen from $38,293 in 2000 to $52,223 in 2013, while median condo prices more than doubled, rising from $221,00 to $488,100. Of course, seven- and eight-figure apartments are no longer unusual, which has fueled the competition by developers and boards to offer ever-more-exotic amenities. As Allen puts it, “Around the turn of the century, so many new condo developments came into the city that had these amenities. Older buildings were under enormous pressure to upgrade.”

One aspect of amenities that boards often overlook, however, is the level of maintenance that these facilities require. In gyms, one of the most popular amenities, wear and tear on treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bicycles, as well as floors and mats, is significant.

“Preventative maintenance starts on day one,” says Salvatore Strazzeri, president of Gym Tech, which has installed and services some 800 facilities in the tri-state area. “Tune-ups should be performed every three months,” Strazzeri adds, estimating that the annual maintenance cost for an in-house gym runs around $1,600, depending on the facility’s size.

Added to the cost of servicing the machines are the costs of heating and air conditioning, as well as cleaning, internet service, administration and security. Such ancillary costs must be considered when making a budget for just about any amenity.

Perhaps the most cost-effective amenities, when it comes to service and maintenance, are storage units and bicycle racks, with initial costs ranging from $75 to $100. “Short of vandalism, these facilities are pretty much maintenance-free,” says Jamie Barnard, president of Giant Industrial Installations, a Queens company that customizes storage facilities to fit any building’s space.

Of course, if a bunch of young children, golf nuts or wine lovers move into your building, you might wind up replacing your bike racks with stroller storage, golf simulators or wine racks. Like everything else, no amenity is forever.

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