By Katheleen Conti, Boston Globe, August 23, 2016
It wasn’t the outdoor pool, fitness studio, or free Starbucks coffee in the lobby that persuaded Korey McKinney and his girlfriend, Adelle Girvan, to choose One North of Boston, a luxury apartment complex in Chelsea, as their first apartment together over similar complexes in Somerville and Medford, ZIP codes popular among the young professional set.
In the end, the couple chose where to live based on amenities for their dogs.
One North was the couple’s top choice because of its on-site dog day care that features indoor and outdoor play space and grooming options. The 3,000-square-foot day care, called Fetch by the Dogfather, is run by Karen Ray, owner of The Dogfather in Boston’s North End.
“It was a huge, huge perk,” Girvan, 23, said. “Dogs should be able to run free, and since we have an outdoor dog park that was a huge plus for me, that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
The day-care center for dogs features indoor and outdoor play space and grooming options.
By catering to dog lovers, the One North complex is trying to slow the revolving door of young professionals initially attracted to the city’s lower rents and proximity to Boston, but driven away in short order by its crime and other problems, including homelessness and drug addiction.
Despite its proximity to downtown and transit service, Chelsea hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of boom that neighbors such as East Boston and Medford have from young professionals priced out of the city. Yet this older, urban community is finally getting new development, and soon One North won’t be the only upscale project to hit the market recently.
Earlier this year, San Diego-based developer Fairfield Residential received city approval for 692 “high-end” apartments and retail space on an 8.25-acre industrial site spanning two blocks along Everett Avenue and Vale and Fourth streets, near One North and one of the pending Silver Line extension stops. The parcels, which include the former Chelsea Clock site, were previously owned by Boston-based Thibeault Development LLC and sold to Fairfield for about $50 million.
Citywide property values are on a sharp upswing, according to Zillow, increasing more than 10 percent the last year.
And at One North, the mostly young tenants are willing to pay a premium to live in Chelsea. Rents start at $2,000 a month, and go well past $3,000 for larger units. Average rents elsewhere in the city have been on the increase, but nowhere near One North’s rates. One-bedrooms can range from $1,200 to under $2,000 depending on the neighborhood, according to real estate listings.
Damian Szary a Chelsea native and principal at Gate Residential Properties, said the average annual household income of his tenants at One North is “significantly higher” than Chelsea’s median of around $49,000.
“We’re the most expensive building in Chelsea, but . . . most of our residents are coming from Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, and they’ve been priced out of those apartments,” Szary said. “We did design it in terms of look and feel to attract the millennial demographic. They don’t have the same stigma that the older generation has about Chelsea.”
“When you bring higher-level incomes into a community like Chelsea, other retailers notice and follow suit,” he said. “That’s kind of what’s happening right now. You’re seeing retail, new restaurants planned, old restaurants are expanding.”
The One North of Boston opened its first building at 100 Heard St. (above) in 2014. Since opening, the complex has retained 62 percent of its tenants.
Girvan, originally from New Jersey, said she was warned by McKinney, who grew up in the area, that Chelsea “was rough around the edges.” But she said that since moving in a year ago she has not felt unsafe in the city. The couple are regulars at Ciao! Pizza and Pasta and at Mystic Brewery, where they have gotten to know people in the neighborhood.
They also credit the doggy day care, which they use for their two black beagle-Labrador mix pups Thor and Zeus, for helping them meet their neighbors. It helps that the average age of tenants at One North is 28.
There are 230 units in One North of Boston, and there are 90 dogs living in the complex.
“Everyone is within the same stage of life so we relate to each other a lot more,” McKinney, 25, said. “A lot of my friends in the building work in the restaurant service industry, one gentleman was a driver for Uber, it’s a wide representation of different walks of life, not all businessmen and lawyers, which is great because you get a lot of perspectives on things.”
The friendships with other dog owners, the amenities and proximity to the commuter rail stop, and the pending Silver Line extension into the city make living in Chelsea’s most expensive rental development worth it. McKinney and Girvan have renewed the lease in their $2,000-a-month one-bedroom through at least 2018.
A dog lover himself, Szary gambled that the convenience of an on-site doggy day-care facility, in addition to standard luxury amenities like hot tubs, game rooms, and fire pits, would be key in attracting young professionals to Chelsea. One North charges $50 a month per dog, and $35 for each cat. It reserves the right to restrict so-called aggressive breeds and limits dogs to two per unit. The day care is an additional $19 a day.
“It was a sector of demand that people weren’t catering too,” Szary said. “We wanted to take it to a different level where we wanted to provide a service to not only help our residents, but help us retain our residents. And it has.”
One North of Boston also features a DNA tracking service to test and match abandoned dog waste to hold owners accountable. The first two offenses carry fines, while a third could lead to an eviction. Several residents said they welcomed the program.
Since opening its first building on 100 Heard St. in 2014, One North has retained 62 percent of its tenants. There are about 90 dogs living in the 230-unit building with rents starting out at around $2,000 for a 1-bedroom; $2,400 for a two-bedroom; and $3,100 for a three-bedroom. Units with dens and balconies rent for hundreds more.
A second building, with 222 units, opened for occupancy in July, and features an indoor basketball court, spinning studio, hot tub, and bigger outdoor pool.
Among the new tenants is Chris Letourneau, who moved from his one-bedroom at the first One North building where he’d been for a year, to a bigger one-bedroom in the new building. The 25-year-old said the on-site dog day care has been a lifesaver for him and his girlfriend, who both work full time. The $19 a day they spend to leave Benny, their nine-month-old, 70-pound golden retriever, at the day care for about 10 hours is a bargain, he said.
When Benny was neutered a couple of weeks ago and had to stay away from other dogs, Letourneau gave the day-care staff a key to his apartment so they could walk him separately.
“It’s easier to own a dog here than anywhere else,” Letourneau said. “And when you have a puppy that’s barking at night, the people next door to you aren’t too mad at you.”
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