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Theme Condos

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., LEED AP, CRITERIUM ENGINEERS

Fashion seems to flow from left to right. At least in Maine it does. Mainers have long realized that “the latest thing” always seems to start in California and eventually work its way east into Maine life. Even in today’s internet age, ladies’ fashion, music styles, and condo law seem to start on the left coast, meander through the heartland and get hung up in Massachusetts before heading up I-95. When “the latest thing” hits Kittery it is still heading downeast.

Take mandatory reserve fund studies for example. That idea more or less started in California, has taken hold in Massachusetts, and is still a dream in Augusta. Because Criterium Engineers is affiliated with over 70 other engineering offices nationwide that deal with condominium issues every day, I pay close attention to the trends spotted by our offices out west. While some of the issues discussed in this space have been of a more technical nature, today we will consider something lighter, namely, “theme condos.”

This term may conjure up images of fine homes set down in the middle of York Animal Kingdom, Funtown USA, or Palace Playland. The condominium industry uses the term “affinity housing.” So theme condos are communities developed around a common special interest theme. Once again examples abound in California.

We are all familiar with condos that feature golf courses, but what about wine tasting? That is the idea behind The Trilogy at the Vineyards in Northern California. This seniors-only community is surrounded with vineyards and olive groves. Unit owners harvest from their own grape trellis, blend wine, and in some cases have their own labels to brand their vintages.

Universities and other cultural centers around the country have for some time promoted condominium development near their campuses to encourage retiring college alumni to return and continue a program of lifelong learning. This idea of being around the young to stay young has been extended even to grade school levels. A continuing-care retirement community in Dedham, Massachusetts is being built in conjunction with a Jewish elementary school. It is expected that active and mobile unit owners will volunteer to be readers, tutors, story tellers, librarians, and mentors creating a healthy village environment.   

Many hotel and condominium rental properties throughout the hottest vacation spots have recognized the attraction of themes to capture the imagination of short-stay vacationers. This has resulted in theme condos in New Orleans with catchy labels such as French Quarter and Jazz Fusion Fantasy and Florida condo destinations featuring African safari and astronaut training. However, it is the total immersion of the community in the theme lifestyle that is most interesting.

One Californian condominium community was developed for railroad train enthusiasts. What even surprised the developer was that the units nearest the tracks - and therefore the noisiest - were the most popular. The unit owners would watch their train schedules and flock to that side of the building when the trains passed.

Southern Virginia has witnessed the birth of a condominium community centered on NASCAR racing. NASCAR celebrities including Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin have created a 500-home community located within a short distance to four racetracks. This 1,400 acre development has a motor sports exhibit,  all-terrain-vehicle trails, and equestrian facilities.

Not to be outdone, stars in the country western music industry are partnering with developers in Alabama to build a condominium / entertainment complex that allows unit owners to have priority concert seating on the grounds which includes a 3,500 seat amphitheater, dinner theater, and video-bingo parlor. For fitness fanatics, a Texas condominium community is under construction that sports a 75,000 square-foot aerobics center, personal trainers that will come to your door, and annual physicals.

Green themes have also been sprouting up in new communities containing organic farms and community gardens utilizing alternative energy sources including wind and solar. Bike paths and shuttle buses are incorporated into the planning of these condominiums to further reduce its carbon footprint. This green theme is being promoted not only to be earth friendly but because developers have discovered it sets their project apart in the market and helps sell units.