BY EMILY GUEVARA

eguevara@tylerpaper.com

An off-campus housing facility near The University of Texas at Tyler is undergoing a makeover. But management views the changes as more than cosmetic. They are putting in place policies and procedures that they hope will make the community a safe and studious environment for college students.

The Cambridge at Tyler, the 588-bed student housing complex at 3088 Old Omen Road, is now Village at the U.

The name change coincides with more than $1 million in improvements that include upgrading one-third of the property’s units, enhancing security and overhauling the clubhouse.

“I’m definitely excited about it,” soon-to-be senior and two-year resident Jori Patterson, 21, of Tyler, said. “I think it’s going to look nicer and draw more people in.”

This property is one of two near the university that has had issues with crime in recent years.

UT Tyler Police Chief Mike Medders said in an interview last fall that Tyler police had investigated three shootings, an armed robbery, large fights and illegal dice games at the property.

However, that was before Emet Capital Management, a company formed in June 2012, purchased the property in December.

Paul Siegel, managing principal at Emet Capital Management, said the priority is showing UT Tyler students that the complex is a safe and secure place to live.

The management is working to accomplish this in several ways. They have a full wraparound perimeter fence to secure the property. Before, there was an opening in the fence where people could walk through.

They also installed security gate arms to work with the existing gates so that people cannot piggyback through the entrance.

Once a resident swipes their card, the gate arm opens and closes immediately after their vehicle passes through.

Spike strips were installed on the exit side so people cannot enter through the exit.

In addition, high-definition cameras identify all of the occupants inside a vehicle from the front and side windows. The cameras record the license plates as well.

By June 30, security alarms will be installed in every unit. Residents can pay a fee for individual bedroom security alarms if they would like.

A Texas Department of Public Safety officer also lives onsite and serves as nighttime security.

“I think when we came into ownership, we came in knowing that there were legacy security issues that we would have to deal with …” Siegel said by phone. “In order to restore the reputation, we must repair the property.”

Siegel said there was a lot of fallout in the spring after the fall semester. He attributed that to the academic and financial troubles that some of the residents experienced.

To avoid that in the future, the management this month imposed a minimum 2.5 GPA standard that all new tenants must meet. Existing tenants will have until their next renewal to meet the criteria.

“The focus here is on ensuring that the residents are doing a great job in school, and we want to help them,” Siegel said.

One of the ways in which he thinks they can do that is through some of the facility upgrades.

The clubhouse renovation, most of which is complete, includes a newly designed and renovated business center, game room, fitness center, study lounge and more.

Five computers, including one Mac, will be available for residents’ use along with a printer.

One-third of the property’s units are slated for upgrade this fall as part of a multiphase overhaul.

The changes will include new wood flooring and furniture packages with leather couches, chairs, dining sets, a desk and chair and a flat-panel television, Siegel said.

Village at the U’s General Manager Belita Gill described the upgrades as a step up for the area.

“This is not what our general market would usually have,” she said, adding that as current residents see the upgrades, it drives up enthusiasm overall.

Jesse Acosta, UT Tyler’s interim vice president for administration, said university officials have been encouraged by the openness of the property managers from Village at the U and Varsity Place Apartments, the latter of which is also near the university and underwent a management change in January of this year.

McKinley Real Estate Management is now the owner of Varsity Place, according to a February article in the Patriot Talon, UT Tyler’s student newspaper.

Acosta, who recently assumed this new interim role at the university, said he plans to set up meetings with management from both housing complexes in July.

Acosta wrote in an email that the university police chief has developed an open dialogue with management from both facilities and meets with them regularly.

Acosta said it’s important that these properties be in good standing even if they are off campus because people often associate what is happening there with UT Tyler, even though the university does not own or manage the properties.

The perception of crime on campus, however untrue, can negatively affect recruitment and retention, Acosta said.

Students and their parents want to know that they are going to be safe on campus, and they want to know the university is addressing those issues.

Acosta said the support from city officials and property managers has been huge in helping to curb the crime incidents on the off-campus properties.

Siegel said the company consulted with the university in addition to its existing residents during the overhaul process.

“For us, we want to do right by the university, so seeking their input all throughout the process is important for us,” he said. “We want them to feel like their students are well taken care of regardless of where they live.”

 
 

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