Before buyers spend years in a home, they'll spend critical hours in a welcome center, a sales center, or a design center. A disconnect at any one of these points can be the difference between a customer who is happy to refer friends and family and one who just wants to get the whole thing over with so they can move into their house. That's why these facilities are so important, and why The Nationals recognizes excellence in them.

SETTING THE STAGE When a developer brings an entirely different kind of lifestyle to a community, a welcome center becomes a focal point for introducing folks to what's to come. In the case of Ross Bridge in the Birmingham, Ala., market, the gold winner for best sales pavilion is also a place to help visitors connect to the past.

The 1,620-acre traditional neighborhood development takes its name from the family who had owned the land since 1858 and the massive bridge built on it by the Confederate Army as part of a rail supply line during the Civil War, says Dorothy Tayloe, sales manager for Ross Bridge. The entire development harks back to the resort days of the 1800s, when families traveled there by train to enjoy the nearby springs. Since those families' first look at the town would be the train station, the Ross Bridge welcome center is inspired by a classic station.

“The train track and railroad theme is the driving force of the design,” says John Burdeshaw with Expo Displays, the Birmingham-based firm that designed the 8,000-square-foot center. “There's an actual replica of a bridge, and train track in vertical orientation is the running theme.”

ALL ABOARD: Railroad cars (right) and tracks and ties (below) are some of the thematic elements that run through the Ross Bridge sales pavilion, aptly named The Train Station.
ALL ABOARD: Railroad cars (right) and tracks and ties (below) are some of the thematic elements that run through the Ross Bridge sales pavilion, aptly named The Train Station.

Greeters guide visitors through the center, which introduces them to the history of the property and the vision of the development, which includes a championship golf course and a Renaissance hotel with a spa. The center also serves as a gathering point in the community for events ranging from movies to a hometown fair, and a large town hall is available for residents to hold club meetings.

The welcome center has been a huge success, with 2,040 total traffic visits since opening in June 2005, says Margi Ingram, vice president and director of sales and marketing for builder Daniel Homes. Sales have averaged more than one per day, with no signs of slowing down.

Once sales are completed, the welcome center is scheduled to be converted to retail space. The rental income generated by that conversion will effectively reduce the cost from $222.22 per square foot to $50 per square foot.

DESIGNING FOR SIMPLICITY This year's winner in the design center category had all the judges doing double takes because it didn't look like any other design center they'd ever seen. Where were the samples? They're hidden, just the way Jim Roberts wants it.

A self-described neat freak, Roberts, president of Taylor Roberts Design Center, designed custom work spaces at his firm to keep all the samples out of sight. They're in easy reach, but they're not stacked on counters or dumped on the floor. After working out of trailers for years, he wasn't about to let his new dream office look junky.

“We went from trailer park to marvelous,” says Roberts, whose Philo, Calif.–based design firm helps major builders develop specifications for their product. “We wanted to create the ideal space to work with our clients [primarily builders as well as a few custom home buyers].”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Memphis, TN.