In Chapel Hill, where progressive ideas are loudly championed, if not always acted upon, the name "the Bicycle Apartments" held real allure in 2013. Pitched by Trinitas Ventures, an Indiana-based developer, the project proposed to convert the property at 602 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into a brighter, new-urbanist dreamscape: off-campus living for UNC students, just blocks from the university and the cosmopolitan delights of downtown Chapel Hill.
Believing Trinitas sought to foster some kind of Amsterdam on the Piedmont, the town council approved a special-use permit for the Bicycle Apartments. Trinitas also requested, and was granted, a reduction in the number of parking units it was required to build—241 spots, down from 330. (More parking spaces, of course, mean more cost to developers.)
"We believe excessive parking is not necessary at this location, as this project lends itself to a pedestrian-oriented development," Trinitas's representatives said at the time.
The planning department agreed. The millennials who would soon populate the Bicycle Apartments would have little use for anachronisms like parking spaces. They'd bike to school, walk to the coffee shops, Uber to the bars. What a world.
But almost immediately after the project was approved, Trinitas rebranded the Bicycle Apartments as LUX, a name less evocative of forward-thinking urban planning than a nightclub where Ashton Kutcher might have guzzled premium champagne in 2005.
Today, LUX offers its student residents free tanning, a resort-style pool and sundeck, and two private shuttles to and from UNC campus. There are plenty of places to lock your bike, but residents who seek to park their cars onsite are having a tougher time. A call over to LUX's offices last week confirmed that, due to a shortage of available parking spaces, the apartment complex rents ninety additional spaces from its neighbors, including a salon and an auto shop. Even those don't meet the demand; a lottery is held at the beginning of every school year to determine which of LUX's six hundred residents get the luxury of paying roughly $100 for a parking spot.
Turns out, one of the reasons students move off campus is because they like to have easier access to their cars. And the kinds of students who can afford to live at LUX, where a one-bedroom runs over $1,000 a month, tend to bring their own cars with them to Chapel Hill.
LUX is the most flagrant example of this kind of bait-and-switch, but glamorous rebranding is happening all over Chapel Hill. Throwing a number into the mix is a popular move. The old Timberlyne Apartments are now Eighty Six North. The Foxcroft has successfully transitioned into The Apartments at Midtown 501. The Charterwood Apartments? Snore. Try 1701 North, an Evolve® community, set on "redefining luxury in Chapel Hill."
Then there's the Village Plaza Apartments, the contentious, ninety-foot-high luxury apartment complex under construction on the site of a former movie theater in the Ephesus-Fordham district. It is lately referring to itself as The Alexan.
"We partnered with [Dallas-based] Trammell Crow Residential on that project, and that's their branding," says Lee Perry of East West Partners. "But to be honest, I'm not sure how long that name's going to be around, either."
"Well, it's looking like the property could possibly be sold in the very near future, in which case the new owner would likely change the name," Perry says.
If history is any indication, the price tag of the units may change as well. When the plans for the Village Plaza Apartments initially surfaced, one-bedrooms were projected to lease for $1,150. Two years later, they start at $1,500.