The former Crossland Economy Studios at Patchen Village has been closed for several weeks, and the noise of a drill prepping a wall to be knocked down echoes through its tattered remains.
Walk into a room and be prepared to hold your breath: Trash litters the dirty carpet, including fast-food wrappers, a chip bag and a child’s yellow truck. The televisions are ancient thick screens, scraps of blue-and-ivory wallpaper in some kitchenettes were last popular during the “country kitchen” fad of the 1980s and at least one of the rooms gives off the thick smell of repeated urination.
But, by the end of 2017, this could become tiny apartments for millennials, complete with a coffee bar and computers in an expanded, airy lobby. Prices for the new apartments have not yet been set.
“We’re looking for people who don’t want a big place,” Norwood Cowgill, president of Cowgill Properties, said. “They want a small place, just to sleep in.”
Norwood Cowgill launched his StudioPlus brand from this 30,000-square-foot building in 1986, and it’s Cowgill who has once again bought the structure, which last belonged to a Houston limited-liability company. Cowgill Properties has begun renovating the building, at 2750 Gribbin Drive, into millennial apartments, with a “paws wash” room for dogs and cats and a dog run in the back where now there is brush.
Cowgill took the StudioPlus chain public in 1995, and merged it with Extended Stay in 1997. In 1998, he parted ways with Extended Stay. He now admits it bothered him “when it’s your baby and someone else is telling you what to do.”
He bought back the 60-unit building on Gribbin Drive for $1.425 million. He estimates that renovating the building with its dirty rooms and dated finishes will cost from $800,000-$1 million.
“I’m not getting back into the hotel business,” he said while surveying the wreck that he hopes to soon make habitable as infill development, just steps from Richmond Road. “All we’re going to do is rent them as apartments.”
The extended stay market was still in its youth when Cowgill first got into the business. Now it’s a mature and splintered market with Extended Stay battling for dominance with competitors such as WoodSpring Hotels and Hilton’s Home2Go brand.
The millennial generation (born roughly between 1980 and 2004) is driving the apartment market because they feel economically challenged with student loan debt and want to be available to move elsewhere for better job opportunities. Studios and one-bedroom apartments now comprise more than half — 54.4 percent — of the nationwide apartment rental market, according to Forbes magazine.
But appealing to demanding lodgers stopped being an issue for the building on Gribbin Drive some time ago. Cowgill said the former hotel rented even to lodgers by the hour. Walls show streaks of grease or other fluids. A pile of used mattresses has been thrown into a morass of abandoned lamps and room fixtures near the back door. Beneath the beds years of trash resides.
Cowgill Properties includes Lexington apartment complexes such as The Reserve at Merrick, Cove Lake Village and Belmont Run Apartments. Cowgill co-founded Office Suites Plus, which is now a part of Regus, a company that offers office suites, meeting spaces and co-working options. Cowgill Properties is also developing 72 one- or two-bedroom apartments at the Flats at 345, at West Fourth Street and Blackburn Avenue.
The renovated building on Gribbin will appeal to those who want to be close to Richmond Road who are tech-savvy and pet-friendly, Cowgill said.
“I’ll guarantee one thing,” he said. “It will look really nice.”