Opening an apartment complex in Chatham during COVID-19

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/5/20

When the plans were drawn up for the Sanctuary at Powell Place apartments in Pittsboro, COVID-19 wasn’t even a thing.

Now, the complex is opening up and residents are moving in …

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Opening an apartment complex in Chatham during COVID-19

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Posted

PITTSBORO — When the plans were drawn up for the Sanctuary at Powell Place apartments in Pittsboro, COVID-19 wasn’t even a thing.

Now, the complex is opening up and residents are moving in during a global pandemic that, in the United States, has claimed thousands of lives and is keeping many indoors.

“People aren’t moving around,” said Susan Keller, the member manager for Rampart Property Management, which operates Sanctuary. “Companies aren’t moving people around. They’re not traveling. They’re not. Everybody’s kind of hunkered down where they are. So asking people to move to a new place — it’s just more challenging than it would have been otherwise.”

Sanctuary is still in the process of construction, but about a quarter of the apartments are ready for move-in. Keller said eight residents moved in two weeks ago.

And she stressed that it’s a local development — two of the developers grew up in Chatham, and one of them is a descendant of the family who owned that land since the early 1900s.

“I think (the developers) are trying to be responsible developers in Chatham County,” Keller said. “They feel like it will benefit the community, and they would like people to understand that and that they could have done something else here. There have been offers over the last decade.”

Keller spoke to the News + Record about opening a new living space during a pandemic, why Pittsboro needs more living spaces and how she says it’s a complex that is built out of Chatham County.

How has it been to open an apartment complex during a time period like this: a global pandemic, people staying at home?

We’re looking at the way amenities are used, the way people can sign up to use them. We’ve changed the way we tour the apartments. While we will do a live tour if you really want to — with everybody wearing masks and sanitizing the whole time — what we’re really pushing is virtual tours. We’ve done FaceTime tours — I’m FaceTiming with somebody and I walk the model so that I can show them everything without them actually being here. I think everybody’s online game, it just has to be upped considerably right now. So we upped ours last year.

How many of these things that you have tried during this time will you continue after the pandemic ends?

A lot of these things. I really cannot see a time when we will not push a virtual tour over a live tour. A live tour is a much better way of selling anything — people being able to see it, touch it, smell it, all of those things. But there’s just not a lot of positive-enough news right now to make me think that’s going to be something even from a liability standpoint that we take on for a long time.

Why build this complex? Why do it here?

This is the realization of the vision of the original developers (of Powell Place) who wanted to create something upscale in Pittsboro. They saw the future of Pittsboro and wanted to create a planned neighborhood that they felt like was in keeping with what the market would want in the future. Something that would contribute to Pittsboro being a place that people want to live, like providing a walkable neighborhood that included a variety of housing options — apartments, townhomes, smaller homes, bigger homes. This is one of the steps in realizing that whole vision. It was curtailed a bit with the recession of 2009, but that has been able to come to fruition now. There’s easy accessibility to pretty much everywhere. Chatham County is very central and this particular location has easy access.

Why should there be more residences in this area that’s already booming with them?

There has not been a market-rate apartment complex built in Chatham County in 20 years. The last one was in Governor’s Club. So there is not a surplus of market-rate apartments in Chatham County at all. It was needed very quickly. I think that people will see that there was a need because we’re filling up really fast.

How do things like advertising and promoting — normal parts of opening any business, or apartment complex — work during COVID-19?

Some things are the same. But the amount of time and effort that you have to spend on your internet advertising is just more. While it’s been a portion of what you do, now it is a much larger portion of what have to do and where your advertising dollars will go, where your time is going.

The Sanctuary, at least in Chatham County, is patient zero for getting a residential property going during a pandemic and trying to get buyers.

I think the interest has been very high. I really think if things ease a little bit and the summer comes and people can be out and about a bit more, we’re very optimistic because there is quite a bit of pent-up need. There’s so much growth in this area. People want to come here. Pittsboro is an amazing community with a lot of things to offer — not just location, but there’s this great downtown, an amazing sense of community, sense of place, sense of history.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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