Tens of millions of dollars are going into completing a major renovation of Hamilton Court.
Yet, despite the prospect of a karaoke speakeasy bar and a rooftop pool, many Penn student residents in HamCo say they don't see the value of many of the new amenities, especially considering the increase in prices.
College junior Aiysha Scott pays about $1,100 per month for her share of her three-bedroom apartment in HamCo. If she were to stay next year, she said that amount would see a $300 increase, to $1,400.
The renovated apartments, which HamCo Asset Manager Josh Guelbart said he hopes will be in working order by July 2018, will now have new kitchen appliances, cabinets, bathroom tiles, and plumbing systems.
And in addition to the karaoke speakeasy bar, HamCo will also include a Halal Guys restaurant, as well as a 10,000 square foot, $7 to 8 million “amenity building” with a rooftop pool and hot tub, gym, and outdoor kitchen for residents. The surrounding courtyard, he added, will be landscaped with bocce courts and fireplaces as an area for residents to socialize.
The project also included updates to the hallways and a new, several hundred thousand dollar internet system to replace the old one that Guelbart called “beyond antiquated."
College sophomore Natasha Cheung said if she moved from her current five-bedroom HamCo apartment to the three-bedroom she wants for next year, she would have to pay $200 more per month.
“I just kind of feel like the whole pool thing is unnecessary,” Cheung said. “I wouldn’t see myself using it a lot.”
She added she would rather see the renovation budget put toward elevators, easier access between the disconnected buildings, or better pest control initiatives.
Although she said HamCo is full for next year, very few of Cheung's friends are staying in HamCo since they question the worth of the new facilities and doubt the construction will be finished on time.
Both Scott and Cheung noted inconveniences due to the ongoing construction as well.
In order to get to the apartments, Cheung said she has had to walk further than usual to get around all the work zones.
She added that one of the factors that initially excited her most about moving in was that she was told the restaurants would be done for this year. But since they still are not open, she worries that the amenity building may follow the same course for next year.
Scott echoed that same sentiment, noting that she will not be living in HamCo next year, partly out of concern that the renovations will not be completed in time.
Instead, she and her roommates leased a house on Baltimore Avenue for which they will each have to pay about $700 per month, albeit for fewer amenities.
Cheung is still unsure of where she will be living next year, but said she would only consider staying in HamCo if the prices were lower.
But Guelbart said HamCo's rising rates match their better offerings.
“I would still say we are the affordable option,” he said. “Especially with what we’re offering now, I think the value has changed dramatically.”
He added that HamCo has a long waiting list for the next academic year.
College sophomore Reginald Lamaute, who will be living in HamCo next year, expressed excitement about the restaurants and amenity building.
“It looks like they’ve made progress since the last time I walked by, and that was encouraging,” he said.
Compared to similar establishments' prices, HamCo's prices have become more similar to other off-campus buildings in the area.
Its lowest rent — for an unfurnished, five-bedroom apartment — will come in around $1,300 per person. Meanwhile, the lowest rent for a room in the Radian is its four-bedroom, furnished room for about $1,400 per resident, according to its website.
Cheung said she thinks the Radian may be a better value than HamCo, citing the Radian’s “newness,” its elevators, and its security personnel.
Chestnut Hall’s basic two-bedroom base price comes in around $1,300 per resident, while the lowest rate for a three-bedroom apartment in Domus is $1,566 per person. On campus, the high rises cost almost $1,400 per month for rooms when no residents share, or about $1,000 when some do.
HamCo's management still believes its product is competitive with the market.
“Comparatively, of all of the buildings in the neighborhood that have anything even remotely comparable as far as the finishes,” Guelbart said of HamCo, “the location and amenities are much more.”
Cheung is not so sure.
“I feel like they mean well,” she said, “but it just doesn’t really carry out.”