It wasn't the floor plan that sold Kate Maher on the Nic on Fifth. She didn't choose her apartment on the 17th floor of the luxury high-rise for its view of downtown Minneapolis. Nor was she swayed by the concierge-staffed hotel-style lobby.
She based the weighty decision on the needs of her 9-pound shih tzu-Bichon, Chewbacca.
Maher, an HR consultant who describes herself as "older than 50," had just adopted the lively puppy when she began her home search last fall. The Nic's sixth-floor deck and communal dog run — a heated, covered outdoor stretch of AstroTurf about the length and width of a long suburban driveway — sealed the deal.
"You don't have to head outside at 2 a.m. when a puppy needs to go. You ride a nice secure elevator to the dog run," she said. "This is where I met the other dog owners in the building, who are now my friends."
The Nic on Fifth's pet accommodation is one of the many amenities at the 253-unit, 26-story tower. The outdoor deck boasts a pool, two fire pits, three tricked-out gas grills and a rooftop garden about half the size of a regulation football field. Inside, tenants can access a 24-hour fitness center and a lavishly decorated club room with fireplaces, flat-screen TVs and a kitchen.
"When people tour the building, the common areas set the tone," said Tiffani McCoy, community manager at the Nic on Fifth. "It's a big part of how people choose where to live."
As more people move into multifamily dwellings, whether apartments or condominiums, they have an ever-expanding menu of amenities to consider.
Public areas shared exclusively by building residents represent a space-sharing concept that doesn't exist in traditional neighborhoods.
"In a neighborhood, you have your private space — your home and your yard — and the public space, the streets and sidewalks," explained Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design and an architecture professor at the University of Minnesota.
"Buildings have third space, the semi-private places that are only accessible to residents of that community," he said. "They're secure, shared spaces and they've become a hugely important design element."
As buildings open their doors and floors around the Twin Cities, the stakes to showcase amenities keep getting higher. Well aware of the ever-richer offerings among their competitors, developers are sinking more of their money — and their building square footage — into shared spaces.
"When you're working with a developer, there's kind of a race on — what amenities do you have?" said Talla Skogmo of Talla Skogmo Interior Design, Edina. "In the old days, an exercise room and a lobby were enough. But that's evolved. Now lobbies are like great boutique hotels."
At e2 Apartments in St. Louis Park, for example, where Skogmo designed the common spaces, "they wanted it edgy and contemporary," she said, to appeal to young professionals. The lobby includes a meeting area with walls of glass, an Internet bar with "funky bar stools" and a curved crackle-glass countertop, a porcelain-tiled fireplace, oversize lamps, "avant-garde fabrics" and "real art — not poster art. I would place art like this in a client's home. They wanted that level of sophistication."
The goal was to create a space where people want to hang out. "This is a lobby where you could bring a laptop or a glass of wine, and you would feel comfortable — and might meet somebody," Skogmo said.
At 58 units, e2 is not a large property, yet it also boasts a rooftop patio with grills, a yoga studio and a juice bar.
"Today's renter really expects not only an apartment but a lifestyle," said Robb Bader, vice president of Bader Development, the developer of e2. "That includes a community and those shared spaces."
In newer buildings, the old-school "business center" is as dated as a fax machine; boxy desks have often been replaced by Wi Fi-enabled lounges with counters, comfy chairs and maybe a view.
"Look at how we live now, freelance nation. More people are working from home and they need community spaces so they're not stuck inside their four walls," said Mary Meehan, CEO of Panoramix Global, a Minneapolis-based consumer trend research firm.
Meehan said it's not just downsizing empty nesters who expect to be pampered. She sees public space as particularly appealing to young adults.
"Millennials are going to be less likely to buy homes; with their student debt they won't be able to. They're marrying and starting families later, so they have more years to live independently," she said. "They like this sort of communal living; they grew up on teams and are all linked electronically. They like it when they don't have to go far to get together."
The definition of common space now extends into the virtual world. The amenity-loaded 222 Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis offers residents a way to connect online. Renters in the 286-unit complex get access to a software program called Active Building. Described as a sort of internal Facebook exclusively for 222 Hennepin, it allows residents to post their profiles and a thumbnail picture.
"This lets them start making friends within a secure environment as soon as they move in," said Amanda Hirtzel, 222 Hennepin community manager. "If you don't live here, you can't be part of it."
The program also allows building managers to communicate with residents, alerting them if they have a package or reminding them when rent is due. But Hirtzel said the ability to make online connections is what makes the system appealing.
"Our residents create their own events," she said. "They've set up a whole gamut of groups: book club, an arts group, a cycling group. You can go on and find out who wants to go to a Twins game. You'll see a message that says, 'Come up to the roof and grill burgers.' They communicate with each other as well as with us."
The Nic on Fifth also has a private online community, but the connections were created by a tech-savvy resident and have no link to the building's management.
Raul Tavares and his wife, Amanda, moved to the high-rise from Boston last fall for his job with a downtown law firm. The couple, both 30, were among the first 15 tenants to move into the Nic.
"At first, none of us had cable or Internet hooked up yet so we started coming to the club room for it, and we started making friends," Raul recalled. "We were always trying to text each other, so we started a group chat."
He connected the newcomers through their smartphones, setting up a WhatsApp instant messenger for building residents. "It's our central way of communicating," he said. "Everyone's always on their phones."
Scrolling through the app on a recent day, Nic residents could see an invitation to get in on a Costco run, an inquiry about joining a brewery tour and a photo of a bowlful of apples that a resident had placed to share in the common kitchen.
Amanda Tavares used the chat to spread the word about the twice-weekly yoga classes she teaches in the Nic's fitness center. She credits the app for her following of students, and for helping her break the ice with new friends.
"There are a lot of transplants here," she said. "We play poker on Sundays and do movie night once a week in the club room."
Her husband finds that making initial connections online can eliminate some of the social awkwardness that often accompanies moving to a new home.
"It can be hard to introduce yourself when you're new. But if you're friendly enough to say hi, the app takes care of the rest," he said. "You start getting notifications, to come watch the game or go to happy hour. All you have to do then is show up."
Staff writer Kim Palmer contributed to this report.
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and newscaster at BringMeTheNews.com.