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September 10 - Renovated Chamberlin is filling ... slowly
By Veronica Chufo 247-4741
10:31 p.m. EDT, September 10, 2009
HAMPTON — The Chamberlin opened its doors to residents in June 2008, just as the housing market soured and a recession settled in.
That has affected leasing at the historic hotel-turned-senior apartment building, which is about half full.
"We would have loved to have opened a year or two earlier," said Wendy Drucker, managing director of Drucker & Falk, which manages the Chamberlin. "It would be a totally different situation. We would probably be close to leased up."
Rents at the waterfront building on Fort Monroe range from $1,700 to roughly $3,000, and that's after rates were "tweaked," Drucker said. Rent includes utilities, cable, Internet service and telephone.
The residency requirements, too, have changed. It was originally intended for people 62 and older, but that dropped to 55 to enable more people to qualify, Drucker said. It also enables the Chamberlin to rent 20 percent of its units to people younger than 55, she said.
"We've been able to have a broader reach. Leasing has picked up considerably," she said.
In the year since opening, people in some cases had trouble selling their homes as the housing market stagnated, but that's beginning to change, Drucker said.
"We're finally beginning to see movement in the house sales side of things," she said.
The uncertainty and gloom that dominated the beginning of the year is dissipating, she added. Portfolios decimated by the recession are starting to be replenished.
It's not unusual that senior housing would take a while to fill, said Dan W. Johnson, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis in Norfolk and a specialist in the local apartment market.
"That's just the nature of the beast," he said. "They tend to lease up slowly, but then they tend to maintain their occupancy at a more level rate than regular market apartments."
Besides, the Chamberlin — a historic, restored building packed with amenities — is one-of-a-kind in Hampton Roads, Johnson said.
After a $55 million renovation, the old building has been restored to its former glory.
To old-timers, the Chamberlin is an icon. They remember it as a place for special occasions. Weddings and high school dances were held there, and the old dance floor in the Chesapeake Room is still intact.
Residents and visitors — its dining venues are open to the public and its health club is open to members — recall first kisses, the orange dress they wore to prom, their toddler's first steps in the lobby, said Sue Moniak, the Chamberlin's executive director.
"The Chamberlin has had many presidents through it. Elvis Presley was through it," she said. "It was a landmark."
For years, the Chamberlin was a hotel. It dates to 1820, when its predecessor, The Hygeia, was built. It was torn down and replaced before the first Chamberlin was built in 1893.
That hotel burned, and the current building went up in 1928.
A temporary closure became permanent in 2003 when the owners struggled financially. The hotel was pulled from the auction block when the owners filed for bankruptcy.
A collection of investors bought it and embarked on $55 million renovation fueled by historic tax credits.
Today, residents have access to 86,000 square feet of common area, including three dining facilities, an indoor pool, fitness center, impressive lobby, solarium and other furnished nooks. It also has a wide veranda and rooftop patio that overlooks the parade ground of Fort Monroe and the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the body of water known as Hampton Roads.
On a clear day, you can see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Drucker said.
There's an entertainment coordinator and full social calendar, including a martini happy hour, and Sentara Healthcare provides home health-care services to those who need it.
Its 133 units offer 58 different floor plans. The units include high-end amenities such as granite counter tops, and some include architectural details such as 20-foot ceilings and Corinthian columns. "This is so completely different than what the typical retirement community is," Moniak said.
Henry McElroy, who moved away from the area after graduating from Hampton High School, moved into the Chamberlin in July. He said the history and the Fort Monroe reuse plan drew him in. The Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority is looking into future land uses of the military base after the Army vacates it in 2011.
McElroy said people are glad the former hot spot is back in business and open as a gathering place again. He remembers coming to the fort as a high schooler for celebrations.
"It's hard to pass up," McElroy said of living there. "Where else can you find these types of amenities?"
Copyright © 2009, Newport News, Va., Daily Press