See the over-the-top apartment perks used to lure Charlotte renters in crowded market

Just a few years ago, a “pet spa” was an eye-catching amenity at many new apartments. But how do you stand out from the crowd when it seems like everyone has a dedicated pooch grooming center?

That’s the question developers are facing across Charlotte, as perks like saltwater pools, outdoor grills with TVs for gameday and free coffee from Starbucks machines grow passé (The days of a simple gym with a few stationary bikes and some dumbbells even counting as an “amenity” are long gone.) Some 25,000 new apartments are under development in the Charlotte region – almost all high-end, top-dollar units – and thousands of them are clustered in similar neighborhoods, with similar prices and features.

Developers are turning to amenities that offer something beyond just fancier facilities, such as a bigger gym or pool. Instead, they’re offering residents the allure of exclusivity with private bars, experiences such as chef-led cooking classes, or the promise of more free time through services like valet laundry and parking.

The newest wave of ultra-luxe apartments comes amid worsening affordability in Charlotte. Last month, Charlotte-based Real Data said average rents in Charlotte jumped almost 6 percent from last year, to $1,115, and are likely to keep rising. New and amenity-rich apartments in Charlotte are the most expensive, averaging $1,471 a month. That’s almost twice as much as the average 30-year-old apartment, which is $873 a month.

But the apartment boom, and booming prices, don’t show any sign of stopping in Charlotte. Here are four over-the-top amenities developers are putting in their apartment buildings as they compete for renters with ever-higher expectations of luxury:

Private bars

Charlotte stretches out below the 50th floor of The Vue, with Bank of America Stadium and Romare Bearden Park bathed in the glow of the setting sun. That’s the kind of view people pay for at The Vue, Charlotte’s tallest apartment building, where a one-bedroom unit can cost more than $2,500 a month. Owner Northwood Ravin recently opened a private bar on the 50th floor, the Sky Lounge, to take full advantage of that panorama.

It’s open only to residents, who can bring two guests each, Thursday through Sunday nights. A bow-tied staffer checks names and IDs at the door. And the bar isn’t just a few beers in a cooler and some bottles of wine set up in a communal room. The Sky Lounge has a staff of three, who mix drinks behind a bar looking south over the skyline, a local beer list and house wines, with residents able to order up more bottles of wine from the Corkscrew shop on the ground floor. Drinks cost about what they would at most retail bars, including $12 cocktails.

Developer David Ravin said the company plans to include private bars at its other new Charlotte apartments. Uptown 550 on Stonewall, a 22-story building under construction at Stonewall and Caldwell streets, will include a rooftop bar, while Providence Row, at Providence and Fairview roads, will feature a wine bar. Both are limited to residents and guests.

Residents and guests at the Sky Lounge bar, on the 50th floor of The Vue apartments. Ely Portillo
A bartender mixes a drink at the Sky Lounge bar, on the 50th floor of The Vue apartments. Ely Portillo

Although apartment developers aren’t typically in the bar business, such private enclaves offer a few advantages. They give residents a place to mix, meet each other and bring friends without the hassle of renting space to a restaurant that might attract big crowds and annoy residents, or go out of business. And they offer residents something else: Exclusivity and built in VIP access as a perk of renting.

Edible landscaping and chef-taught classes

At Novel Providence Farms, developer Crescent Communities decided to focus the amenities and resident programs around food. The idea is meant to appeal to millennials, famous for their love of avocado toast and craft beer, and older renters who are more food- and health-conscious. To that end, the apartments, which opened this month on Providence Road just south of Interstate 485, will include walnut, fig and apple trees for residents, edible landscaping (such as herbs planted around grilling areas) and community garden beds available to residents.

There’s also a weekly cooking program led by a local chef, where residents can learn in the professional-grade kitchen attached to the leasing center. The first lesson focused on pumpkin-based recipes, and Crescent says future classes will focus on seasonal and local foods. The apartments will also bring in chefs from nearby restaurants and Whole Foods at the adjacent Waverly development.

Another “foodie”-inspired amenity at Novel Providence Farm is intended for apartment dwellers who love cooking but lack the big-ticket kitchen items a homeowner might have accumulated over the years. Each apartment includes a gas range with an interchangeable flat-top griddle, and the apartment building has items such as Kitchen Aid stand mixers and immersion blenders to check out from a kitchen “library,” as well as a Big Green Egg grill.

“It’s not just an aesthetic, but something you can actually use,” said Benjamin Watt, director of marketing at Crescent.

Valet laundry

Most new apartments in Charlotte come equipped with a washing machine and dryer. But 2ULaundy is betting that residents don’t want to spend their time doing laundry. Co-founder Dan D’Aquisto said their service – one-day pickup and drop-off laundry and dry-cleaning, collected and returned at your apartment’s front door – is available now in 81 Charlotte apartments. The service starts at $25 per pickup for a small bag (20 pounds) or $35 for a large bag (35 pounds).

D’Aquisto said some apartments are going further than just offering the service as an option: They’re including it for new residents to persuade them to sign a lease. Solis Southline, Encore in SouthPark and several other new buildings have offered a $400 credit for 2ULaundry as a perk for signing a new lease, D’Aquisto said. That costs significantly less than offering a month of free rent, and unlike some amenities, it’s applicable to all residents – even those who don’t have a pet or enjoy bocce ball.

2ULaundry C2 15
2ULaundry bag and door hanger. CHRIS M ROGERS/Courtesy 2ULaundry.

“Our service is one of the more practical you can offer everyone,” said D’Aquisto. “Everyone has to do laundry... These apartment buildings are all about experience now.”

Valet parking

Parking is included with rent at the Ascent apartment tower in uptown, recently opened next to Romare Bearden Park. But with more than 300 apartments in the 33-story tower, finding a space in the multistory concrete deck could be a challenge.

Not if you pay $200 a month extra for valet parking, however. For that fee, you can drop your car off with a valet as soon as you turn into the parking deck. They’ll park it for you in a reserved spot. And when you’re ready to leave, you can call down to the concierge desk and the valet will bring your car around for you, warmed up and waiting at the entrance when you get downstairs.

That monthly fee might sound steep, especially considering that a studio at Ascent starts at more than $1,400 and a two-bedroom can run more than $3,500 a month. But Ascent developer Greystar is wagering that for people who can afford those rents, the convenience of valet parking will be worth the extra $200 a month – and that it will set their property apart among the thousands of new apartments uptown.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo