Around metro Atlanta, projects both massive and relatively small are offering model parks and eye popping attractions and amenities in the pandemic era
When Tony Adams describes the planned resident clubhouse at the Cresswind Georgia at Twin Lakes community, it sounds like a grown-up version of Great Wolf Lodge, if not a slice of Walt Disney World.
Adams is Kolter Homes’ regional vice president, and the clubhouse in question will encompass about 27,000 square feet as the centerpiece of the massive active-adult community in Hoschton, northeast of Atlanta. It’ll feature amenities such as a cozy gathering area with a two-story fireplace off the entry, a natatorium, a huge multipurpose room capable of hosting balls and church services, an arts and crafts room with a kiln, billiards area, bar, and large workout facilities with a yoga room. A hub, that is, for people who’ve worked hard their whole lives to let loose.
The clubroom is one reason the Cresswind project—the brand’s third in metro Atlanta, following a finished community at Lake Lanier and another under construction in Peachtree City—had sold 109 houses in just three months since launching sales in mid-May. And it’s indicative of the top-flight amenities suburban Atlanta homebuyers have come to expect, if not necessarily require, when scouting new properties as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unexpected uptick in business.
“When they’re here,” says Adams of prospective Cresswind buyers, “this is basically their playground.”
Beyond eyepopping clubhouses, subdivision developers have incorporated extensive amenities including walking trails, Bocce courts, “model parks” that offer a variety of decorated sample homes for buyers to peruse, and mini waterparks so extravagant you’d half-expect to pay admission. Oh, and pickleball. So much pickleball.
Cresswind Georgia, in fact, is planning the mother of all pickleball complexes: a 41-court facility capable of hosting major tournaments and events, believed to be the largest private venue in Georgia. (For the uninitiated, pickleball is like tennis on the half-court, played with a hard paddle and considered one of America’s fastest-growing sports. It marries the skills of Ping-Pong, badminton, and tennis but with less strenuous running and darting around required than the latter. Thus, it tends to attract older players.)
“People haven’t stopped playing tennis, but [pickleball] is much easier,” says Adams. “I don’t even know where the trend started.”
Stephen Haines, Artisan Built president, is a little more colorful in his description of the pickleball craze: “It’s literally the rage. People that are serious about it, they’re like Mike Tyson-serious about it.”
On the flipside of the metro, Haines’ company is building NatureWalk at Seven Hills in Dallas, between Marietta and Acworth. About 1/3 finished, NatureWalk is planned to include 1,400 home lots, and Haines says sales in 2020 are up 120 percent over last year.
“Even with COVID going on, we had about 300 people come to our [model park] grand opening” on September 12, he says. “Nine people put checks down to purchase homes. I would say they’ve responded very well.”
As opposed to a single model unit that’s commonly found with smaller subdivisions and intown ventures, NatureWalk has three professionally decorated models, along with a new design center, that represent the project’s three discrete product lines: the active-adult section, a farmhouse style that recalls scenes from backcountry Midwestern roads, and the largest Estate series plans. (Average home prices land in the low to mid-$300,000s, Haines says.) The model park is strategically located near the entrance, as prospective buyers tend to get lost in an unfinished neighborhood spanning 1,500 acres.
It’s a tactic Haines has borrowed from his past experience with other larger projects in Florida. And like model parks elsewhere, it’s proven a hit despite novel coronavirus concerns and the prevalence of 3D and video tours, which don’t quite replicate the sensory experience of in-person visits.
Cresswind Georgia in Hoschton has a whopping 15 homes in their model park. That befits an overall development, Twin Lakes, that’s expected to feature 2,600 homes when finished, making it one of the biggest home developments in metro Atlanta in the past decade—and large enough to nearly double the surrounding area’s population. Prices span from the mid-$200,000s to high-$300,000s, and Adams says early buyers have hailed from as far as California, Arizona and New York.
But the model park approach isn’t relegated to just mega-subdivisions.
At The Providence Group’s The Maxwell, a mixed-use community in downtown Alpharetta, three models have opened to showcase condo-style “stacked” townhomes (from the mid-$300,000s) and more traditional, Brownstone-style offerings ($500,000s and up). The 138-unit project, inspired by mercantile architecture, is built to feel urban while capitalizing on walkability to Alpharetta’s burgeoning downtown and Alpha Loop Trail.
Beyond model parks and amenities, Haines cites four factors as helping to drive pandemic-era buyers into new living arrangements in the suburbs—and brand-new homes in particular—right now: During lockdown in the spring, many people realized they weren’t satisfied with their houses, condos and apartments; companies have expressed that working from home more often is here to stay, triggering the need for home offices. (“We even had one customer requesting sound attenuation for those Zoom calls” in a specific room, Haines notes.); homebuyers are gravitating toward new housing, which tends to be healthier and better ventilated; and lastly, Haines says civil unrest in the core of Atlanta has driven a handful of buyers to NatureWalk’s Paulding County who’d vowed to never leave the city.
“It’s just kind of a perfect storm,” he says. “There’s a natural gravity in the market right now.”
True to its name, NatureWalk has completed five miles of walking trails, all accessible to golf carts, of about 10 miles planned. There’s pickleball, of course, a full array of basketball and tennis, a highly amenitized clubhouse, and an elaborate playground with forts for the tots. The broader community’s two waterparks aim to exceed all competition, offering huge funnel slides, splash pads, and massive water buckets timed to douse kids every two minutes. HOA dues that pay for upkeep of the amenities and access to them are described by Haines as “surprisingly low” at $725 annually per home.
“The goal is to give somebody a destination,” says Haines. “If you had something like that included in your HOA dues, why would you go to Six Flags? Why would you leave the neighborhood?”