Wondering why all those college students are living in an industrial area along Bluff Road?
Maybe it's the 24-7 workout rooms. Or the swimming pools, hot tubs and beach volleyball courts. Late night shuttles to Five Points. How about free tanning?
Add in the private bedrooms and baths, full kitchens, furniture, balconies and Internet. Oh, and you're living in the middle of hundreds and hundreds of other college students.
Welcome to the USC off-campus hot spot: Bluff Road, a little over a mile from Williams-Brice Stadium and a 10-minute shuttle ride to the heart of campus. Thousands of Carolina students have turned their college experience into resort-style living at a handful of apartment complexes that have sprouted in the past few years.
There are cottage-style homes, townhouses and traditional one-level apartments, all designed specifically for college students.
The newest - The Woodlands, which sits between Shop and Bluff roads - opened in August and is at 100 percent occupancy. The 390-unit complex features an on-site movie theater, fitness center with a climbing wall, pool, hot tub and fire pits. There's also a cyber cafe in the 9,000-square-foot clubhouse.
Many of the developments are part of national "chains" of complexes, with their roots in college towns and cities all over the country. Copper Beech, for example, operates 33 complexes in 17 states. Its headquarters is in State College, Pa., home of Penn State.
The complexes typically set rent prices by the bedroom - so a unit costs each resident somewhere from $429 to $620 per month. Most are rented as furnished units. Some complexes include utilities in the rent; others don't. They all come with a slew of amenities.
For Michael Pietras, Collin Eaker and Zachary Woods - three seniors in USC's Honors College - the move to Copper Beech has given them plenty of room to spread out. The complex features 350 units with floor plans up to 2,000 square feet in a gated community off Bluff Road.
Each has his own bedroom and bath in a three-level townhouse - and there's an extra half-bath off the kitchen. A large bonus room on the lower level features a projection screen TV, while their living room holds a 46-inch flat screen. Three of their close friends live in the apartment next door, sharing a balcony with them.
"The best thing about it is the space. The apartments are huge," Pietras said. "There's a full kitchen, a living room. There's an extra room we don't even know what to do with."
The three met during their freshman year in the Maxcy dormitory.
"Living on campus as a freshman, that's key to meeting so many people," said Eaker, who is from North Carolina.
But moving to Copper Beech this year has given them space and freedom. They either drive or take the shuttle to classes, and hop on the late-night shuttle bus that's available for rides to and from Five Points on Thursday through Saturday nights.
"It's the safest thing. It's great for everybody. It makes it less likely for us to make bad decisions," said Pietras, a Spring Valley High graduate majoring in mechanical engineering.
On game days, they will have friends over to grill out before they head to the stadium.
"There are not as many house parties as you'd think out here," Pietras said. "But on game days there are a lot of people."
The three cook most of their meals in the apartment, eating together as a group a couple times a week - "pork chops, chicken, steak. Guy food all the way," Eaker said. They are regulars at the well-equipped Copper Beech gym, with each using it several times a week.
They each pay $480 a month for the townhouse, which came furnished with living room, kitchen and bedroom furniture and a washer and dryer. With utilities, it ends up costing about $530 a month for each to live there - about $30 less than Pietras said he paid to live in a house on Devine Street last year. Eaker said it's less expensive to live at Copper Beech than it was for him to live in the Green Quad on campus last year.
Kirsten Kennedy, USC's director of housing, said the university doesn't see itself as competing with the off-campus complexes. All of USC's 6,610 on-campus living spaces in 24 buildings are full, and there is a waiting list, she said.
"We don't compete directly. We have two different products," she said. "The thing we add is student staff. We have 239 resident mentors who are there to help the students. I don't believe off-campus (apartments) have those."