I was recently given a private tour of Tony Hsieh’s Airstream Village in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was impressed with
the dedication to the concept of creating a sense of community among all residents. There’s a lot to be learned
for all manufactured home community owners by the unique initiatives that Hsieh is embarking on with this property.
Background on Airstream Village
Just down the street from Airstream Village is the high-rise condominium building that Tony Hseih lived in when he
hatched the idea to create a utopian community of Airstream trailers and tiny homes. He owned a vacant manufactured
home community as part of his nearly $350 million investment in land and buildings near Freemont Street in downtown Las
Vegas, and that was to be his canvas. There are about 30 units in Airstream Village, one of which houses Tony Hsieh, who
is the founder of Zappos.com and on the cusp of being a billionaire thanks to the sale of the company to Amazon.
The importance of building “community”
A Time magazine article titled “The Home of the Future” raved about the fact that manufactured home communities are like
“gated communities for the less affluent”. While Tony himself is a huge exception to that rule, the property is dedicated
to this concept of “community” – and that might prove to be the greatest amenity that our industry provides. A property
with “community” will attract and retain residents that seek a support network and sense of family. And it’s important to
note that you can’t just buy such a great amenity – you have to build it from scratch.
Creative structure of common areas
One of the first things you notice about Airstream Village is its unique look. After entering the gate, you are in a tunnel made
of arching tree branches that are strung with white Christmas lights. This dead-ends into the central congregation area
which features a prominent stage, fire pit, and a large amount of seating. There is an outdoor ping-pong table and outdoor
billiards table. And immediately behind this area – flaking the fence line – are metal storage container buildings that
feature a laundry area and business center. The trailers and tiny homes are clustered together on a fully paved parking lot,
with the common area sitting on astro-turf. There is no parking inside the fence and gate – all parking is in a central parking
lot next door.
Goal of total participation
Tony Hsieh’s goal is that all residents socialize at all times except to sleep. The trailers and tiny homes are seen
as simply bedrooms, and the living area is this central congregation point. He has tried to jumpstart this concept
of total commitment to community integration by providing something for every possible interest in his common areas.
You can sit by the fire, enjoy a nightly concert, write and print a report in the business center, do your laundry, play table
tennis or pool, eat, and converse. It’s very reminiscent of an upscale RV park with an edgy beat – and you can imagine that
most every resident would have no problem spending their weekends and evenings in this format. It’s also interesting to
note that Airstream is not only about adults, as there are four children that live there, as well.
Coop of skills
One interesting feature of Airstream Village is the requirement that all residents contribute a skill to the greater community, as well as pay rent. These skills range from gardening to painting to playing music – even smoking meat. With a collection of
30 skills, the general community is able to provide some real creative and interesting options that forge even moreenjoyment for all residents. One resident, for example, is in charge of all community cookouts. Another organizes the acts
for the stage. Then there’s the resident that paints murals and signs announcing upcoming events. There’s even a resident
that takes care of the property’s mascot – Tony’s pet alpaca which roams freely at all times.
Leading the charge on making manufactured home communities chic again
You can easily see how this type of living arrangement would be very attractive to millennials and others who would be happy
with living smaller and more active. That’s the very power that attracted Tony to leave his large penthouse condo behind and
exchange it for a small Airstream. And if a near-billionaire can elect to live in a manufactured home community, then it’s a
great advertisement for a new chapter in the industry in which our product becomes chic again. The industry had Elvis in the
1960s, when he lived in a mobile home park in the film “It Happened at the World’s Fair”, and now it has Tony Hsieh.
And he’s still learning and adapting
Airstream Village – as cool and creative as it is – is about to move across the street. Tony Hsieh has purchased Ferguson’s
Motel, a simply two-story, abandoned motel with tile roof and brick walls. The plan is to introduce this structure into in
the common area, offering air conditioned, indoor spaces and perhaps even some retail and restaurant venues. It’s important to note that the current Airstream Village has no indoor venues, and with 115 degree summers it seems that may be one lesson learned. There will also be more room for creativity, as the new property is roughly twice as large. And that’s a canvas that Tony will surely do a masterful job with. He’s already purchased a sculpture for the entrance, a giantmetal one that came from the famous Burning Man event.
One of the hottest topics in the industry going forward is how to create a stronger sense of community, and harness that as
the largest amenity in every manufactured home community. Tony Hsieh’s Airstream Village is a great role model for this very important quest. Many of the ideas he’s creating can be adapted to most every property and the result will be a happier and more loyal resident base.
Frank Rolfe has been a manufactured home community owner for almost two decades, and currently ranks as part of the 5th largest community owner in the United States, with more than 23,000 lots in 28 states in the Great Plains and Midwest. His books and courses on community acquisitions and management are the top-selling ones in the industry. To learn more about Frank’s views on the manufactured home community industry visit www.MobileHomeUniversity.com. This article originally appeared in the Manufactured Housing Review, subscribe for free here.