New student apartment complex uses virtual reality to market units

Construction on CPM’s newest Marcy-Holmes property will finish this summer.

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Andrew Heiser

The newest student apartment complex in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood is still under construction, but virtual reality technology is allowing prospective renters to get a sneak peek inside.

CPM Companies’ latest apartment project — Spectrum — is scheduled for completion this summer on 8th Street Southeast, one block west of Interstate 35W. The building is marketed primarily toward University of Minnesota students.

Since December, CPM has been using virtual reality technology to allow prospective tenets to tour the $15-million complex — the only way people can see inside, until construction ends in July.

CPM is marketing the building as a “resort-like” space by highlighting its outdoor community areas and swimming pool. Of the building’s 118 units, 16 are slated as townhomes.

CPM marketing director Laura Fitzgibbons said about 25 percent of Spectrum’s beds have been leased so far, and the townhomes have been popular.

Units are currently leasing for the 2017-2018 school year.

“I think the biggest challenge when you have a new product is not having something to show to paint the picture and tell the story, so this has been the easiest way to do it,” Fitzgibbons said. “People say, ‘I want to walk the building,’ so here’s your answer.”

The technology allows users to see detailed renderings of a sample apartment as if they were standing in the unit.

The technology uses a smartphone and headset with special lenses; while walking the entire building is not possible, users get a similar experience of looking around the space.

Martin Mitchell, a College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences senior at the University, tried the headset at Blarney Pub & Grill last week — one of the popular spaces on the University’s campus that the headsets have been available for use. He said virtual reality would have been useful during an earlier apartment search a few years ago.

“When I moved here in Dinkytown before most of these big places opened, they weren’t even built yet, so you couldn’t go on a tour of your apartment,” Mitchell said.

For some renters who prefer thorough looks at their potential homes, virtual reality is more of a gimmick than a practical way to assess a space.

A.J. Walther, a chemical engineering senior, said virtual reality might be fun, but it doesn’t capture all of an apartment’s features.

“It helps you envision it, but a lot of things are tangible … you need to be there to look at it,” Walther said.

The technology is still limited. Users can only interact with a single unit from a confined location.

Other area developers and landlords showcase online models of their units but have yet to adopt wearable visuals in their marketing efforts.

Fitzgibbons said she expects that to change.

“I think it’s becoming more competitive as units get nicer,” she said. “I think we’re on the front line [of virtual reality], but I wouldn’t be surprised if people follow suit.”