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Rampart Construction/Simmons Vedder Partners – The Domain at Eldridge

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The housing development market hasn’t come all the way back, but the future is looking brighter. A notable example is The Domain at Eldridge, a 320-unit apartment complex in Houston’s Energy Corridor District being developed by Simmons Vedder Partners and built by Rampart Construction. The project broke ground in April 2011 and is expected to take about 20 months to complete.

This is the latest in a series of multifamily complex developments by Simmons Vedder Partners, which has developed and acquired more than 8 million square feet of office, industrial and residential space with an aggregate value of more than $2 billion since 1992. However, this project is its first construction start since late 2007. It is located on a 10-acre parcel adjacent to a previous Simmons Vedder development, the Eclipse apartment complex.

Simmons Vedder also has several other developments that were built under the Domain apartment brand, including the Domain at CityCentre and Domain at Kirby complexes. JP Morgan Chase is providing financing for Domain at Eldridge’s construction, while Behringer Harvard has provided mezzanine financing for the construction of The Domain at Eldridge.

Moving Along

Domain at Eldridge will be similar to the Eclipse complex. Units will range in size from 650 to 1,425 square feet with 10- to 11-foot ceilings, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and wood grain floors. Domain at Eldridge will also feature two courtyards, a pool, fitness center, club room and garage parking. The  logical clientele for these units are the 25- to 35-year-olds working for the oil and gas-related companies in the Energy Corridor District, though experience at Eclipse indicates that the resident base will be broad and diverse.

“The project is on about 10 acres of what was a 20-acre tract, and Domain at Eldridge can basically be seen as phase two of the previous Eclipse development,” Simmons Vedder Partner John Cutrer says. “We had hoped to start on this project in 2008, but that didn’t happen because of the market conditions. Now we expect to see strong demand for apartments at The Domain at Eldridge.”

Rampart Construction is serving as general contractor on the project. Founded in 2004, Rampart is a Texas-based general contractor with experience on everything from multifamily condos to mixed-use developments. Rampart has worked with Simmons Vedder on several projects in the past. This is also one of the first projects for Rampart after the economic downturn.

“The overall project should be complete by the fall. Here in Houston, weather can be a challenge, and this year has been wet,” Rampart Vice President Clay Thompson says. “But we have plenty of room, no real slope challenges, [its] easy to get in and out of, and the logistics are fairly simple. Simmons Vedder puts a lot of emphasis on materials on the outside and top-of-the-market interiors and amenities. They have a good eye for quality.”

Strong Partners

The two companies work well together. Rampart sees Simmons Vedder as a key, like-minded partner that shares its own values. Simmons Vedder prefers to contract with a general contracting company that it knows can be trusted to do the job right and meet quality expectations. “We know Rampart and their character and capabilities,” Cutrer says. “It is important for us work with people we have confidence in.”

One thing that does differ from some of the projects that Rampart and Simmons Vedder have worked on before is the fact that this isn’t a typical garden-style or wrap project. It is a three-story building with a parking garage behind it. The building is crowded to the road, and parking is hidden from public view.

“This kind of product provides us with a premium over traditional garden product and a slight discount on the units versus a wrap product,” Cutrer says. “It takes a special site to do this, as you really need seven or more acres to make it work. But overall this is a product type we are excited about.”

Looking ahead, Rampart and Simmons Vedder are confident that there should be no major stumbling blocks on the road to completion for Domain at Eldridge. They are both gearing up for the punch process, which they expect to go smoothly. Initial opening is slated for June, while full completion should be around September or October. Each company is confident in the project’s ultimate success and is ready to move to future endeavors when Domain at Eldridge is completed.

After working on some projects that carried the company through some tough years, Rampart expects 2012 to be its biggest year yet. Rampart is focused on trying to hire and retain the best people, because it thinks the market should be strong over the next three to five years. The apartment vacancy is fairly low across the state right now, and Rampart is active in Dallas, Houston and Austin, reaching out to existing and new clients to be sure it is in position to serve the younger market that is driving apartment rental living. The company will continue to focus on relationship-based operations with employees and clients alike.

As for Simmons Vedder, the company feels the market is ripe with opportunity and should present plenty of project options in the years ahead. The company is on the lookout for more sites where it can continue to develop.

“Our goal isn’t to just get out and build on the next field,” Cutrer explains. “Our goal is to find sites with long-term value and to build a stable pipeline of projects that can carry the company forward.”