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How One Firm’s ‘Soup-To-Nuts’ Approach Enables It To Design And Build Assets In Turbulent Times


In today’s rocky economic climate, many real estate companies are facing difficult decisions. Continued supply chain disruptions have delayed some projects for months, or even years, and now, with interest rates rising and looming concerns about a recession, lenders are pulling back on commercial real estate loans and leaving firms without the capital they need to bring their visions to life. 

As many CRE firms scramble to find a solution, one company is holding strong thanks to its unique business model. Bonaventure is a vertically integrated real estate private equity firm with a “soup-to-nuts” approach to CRE, handling the architecture/design, development, investment, construction and management of multifamily communities across the mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Through this model, the company has been able to keep projects afloat in difficult times, Bonaventure CEO Dwight Dunton said.

“We are the owners, the developers and we have our investors consistently bringing new capital in,” Dunton said. “We have the ability, unlike a lot of other developers, to slow a project down or speed a project up or determine when we need to start. While other capital-constrained firms have to abandon projects right now, we have options.”

Dunton said another key aspect of the Bonaventure model that has kept the company moving through all economic climates is the fact that every team within the firm works as a cohesive unit, coming together to take a 360-degree view of each project. Bisnow spoke with Dunton and Bonaventure Principal Architect Jeff Price to learn more about the firm’s approach, particularly when it comes to designing buildings for today’s tenants. 

Bisnow: Bonaventure’s slogan is “we create assets.” What does that mean?

Dunton: For Bonaventure, we are such a diverse company with so many different departments, that when we say “we create assets,” we are referring to not only the assets we build for our residents, but all of our different stakeholders. This includes our investors, the people who are paying for the building, the people who will manage the building and, of course, our residents. We wear all the hats, and for us, it’s about balancing the needs of all the stakeholders to create the best project from the perspectives of each user.

Price: From a design perspective, “we create assets” means looking at design through a lens of efficiency and providing maximum deliverables to end users. By analyzing the ground for the highest yield and most cost-effective layout, we are looking at the returns on the development from the outset. When it comes to interior space, we focus on peeling away every non-useable square foot and keeping our building efficiency percentages as high as possible. Even in our prototype units, every inch of space is scrutinized to eliminate wasted circulation space and give usable functional space to our residents.

Bisnow: How does Bonaventure’s approach to design set it apart from other firms?  

Dunton: Most true architecture firms have one client for each project and they’re defending the needs of that specific client. We take a more holistic approach that’s focused on efficiency and the elimination of waste. A lot of our competitors have amenities that look like furniture showrooms: pretty, but not very functional. When we look at space for our residents, we try and look at what they would want, activity-wise, in their own home or in their own community, and try to evolve with the times.

Bisnow: How are you approaching amenity spaces today? 

Dunton: The challenge is not to provide more space, but more functional space. More space may be impressive, but the better solution for residents is to provide more experiences. Rather than just making a gym bigger, determine what programs can be expanded — virtual trainers, boxing equipment, bikes. We’re looking for what we can offer residents next to enhance their living experience.

Price: Recently, we’ve been focused on creating what we call a “third room,” or a live-work space for the many people who are now working from home. We’ve been looking at our clubhouses, which are spaces where residents would come to play pool or unwind after work, and now they are being used on a 24/7 basis. We are breaking those up into several different activity spaces based on residents’ needs. Staying in an apartment all day does not work for everyone, and we want to build spaces where they can work from home while still getting out into their community. 

Bisnow: Efficiency has been mentioned a few times in this conversation. What does that mean to Bonaventure and how has it helped the company through the current climate? 

Dunton: Material efficiency is a big part of what we do, which is key right now for both supply chain and sustainability concerns. We create layouts that reduce the amount of waste that goes into the dumpster, which is especially important for us since we pay for and procure our own materials.

When we get into every apartment unit, we look at every foot of potential wasted space and try to convert them to usable space. If you look at our units versus our competitors, you’ll find a lot more usable space — walk-in closets, say, compared to wasted corridors and nooks and crannies that don’t serve a purpose. 

Bisnow: Can you give an example of a recent project Bonaventure designed and what it offers? 

Dunton: One recent project under construction that really excites me is Attain at Spotsylvania Towne Centre in Virginia, which we are doing in partnership with Anthony Cafaro and the Cafaro Co. We are placing a 296-unit community in the heart of a revitalized shopping center. Not only do our residents have access to the freeway, but they will be able to walk to dozens of food, retail and entertainment options. 

The buildings were designed to embrace an outdoor pool experience that makes residents feel that they are secluded from the bustle of the mall and our most recent amenities including cyber lounges and “third room” amenities. This will truly be a community to have it all without getting into your car.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Bonaventure. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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