The grand dame of Route 1 apartment complexes is undergoing a $20 million makeover to renovate its 919 units nestled in several buildings that rise over the highway.
Almost 300 apartments have been redone at Granada Highlands in Malden, with faux-marble kitchen counters, wood or tile floors, and new windows with views of Revere Beach and the Boston skyline.
On Thursday, the ribbon will be cut on a $3 million amenity center, where residents can kick back in leather chairs to watch a 70-inch plasma screen TV, hit the treadmill, or play billiards.
The extensive renovation is part of a strategy to reposition Granada Highlands as a top suburban rental property, said Jeffrey J. Cohen, president of Metropolitan Properties of America, the Boston-based owner of the property.
“It’s a great location right off Route 1,” said Cohen, a third-generation realtor in Greater Boston. “We’re giving people brand-new apartments. . . . An upgraded lifestyle.”
The new investment at Granada Highlands comes at a time when apartment development is surging in Malden. Several other projects have been permitted in recent months.
■ 371 units called Highlands at Overlook Ridge, which will be built by Roseland Properties on the Malden side of the former Rowe Quarry off Route 1.
■ The Residences at Malden Square: 195 units of studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments to be built at the corner of Main and Dartmouth streets.
■ 100-150 Exchange Street: 210 units of studio, one-, and two-bedroom units approved for the former Super Fitness site, which also borders Jackson Street.
Mayor Gary Christenson said the new developments and renovations at Granada Highlands are an important source of new real estate taxes and other revenues.
“It’s the only way forward for Malden, to encourage new investment opportunities,” said Christenson, who plans to attend Thursday’s ribbon-cutting. With cuts to the federal budget and state aid, he said, “We have to look for more sources of revenues. These developments provide that.”
Christenson said public improvements — from paving new streets to installing new sidewalks and crosswalks — have been made to help spur development. New residents, particularly professionals commuting to Boston, could help boost the city’s downtown, he added.
“We need people with disposable incomes supporting our restaurants, our businesses. These developments will do that,” Christenson said.
One developer isn’t worried about competition from a restored Granada Highlands. “We seldom see prospective tenants who are looking to live at [Granada],” said Chris Maietta, vice president at Combined Properties of Malden, a major real estate developer in the city.
He noted that Granada and the Rowe Quarry developments, located near Route 1, appeal to a more suburban tenant, rather than a city-dweller. “Our [complexes] appeal to someone who wants to live in the hustle and bustle of downtown,” he said.
Combined — which owns an upscale high-rise at 160 Pleasant St., just steps from City Hall — plans to invest $50 million to build 210 apartments on the former Super Fitness site at the corner of Exchange and Jackson streets.
Demolition of the former fitness center could begin in late summer, Maietta said. Rents will mirror those charged at 160 Pleasant St., ranging from $1,700 to $2,600, depending on the unit, he added.
“We’re finding the market is really responding” to the firm’s developments, Maietta said.
Cohen, a third-generation property owner, is aware of the stiff competition posed by Combined and other developers to Granada Highlands. “Any new product is competition,” he said. “We have to price ourselves appropriately.”
Monthly rent at Granada Highlands is $1,335 for a studio, $1,399 for a one-bedroom unit, and $1,867 to $1,927 for two-bedroom units, according to Metropolitan Properties of America.
“We’re looking for the person who wants more value and doesn’t mind a short commute into Boston,” Cohen said.
Granada Highlands was built in the 1970s, amid the urban renewal era, by Boston real estate mogul Thomas Flatley. With nearly 1,000 apartments, it was one of the state’s largest suburban complexes, sprawling over 50 acres, according to Cohen.
With 24-hour security, two ponds, and a pool, the complex provided a suburban oasis. An MBTA bus stop was added to the property, and still shuttles residents to Malden Center, where they can take the Orange Line into Boston.
“It still is the only [private] property with an MBTA [bus] stop right in its community,” Cohen said.
The Flatley Co. sold the complex to Chicago-based Equity Residential Property Trust in 1999. Cohen’s company purchased Granada Highlands in 2007 from Equity for $181 million, according to previous Globe articles.
“Granada Highlands at the time had really become obsolete,” Cohen said. “It’s my opinion that they were not improving the property, to keep it competitive with a lot of the buildings that were being developed in Greater Boston.”
Soon, his company started renovating units, replacing kitchens and bathrooms. As a tenant moves out, the unit is redone, he said. About 25 to 30 units are worked on each month, he said.
Metropolitan Properties so far has invested $10 million on renovations, including transforming old space into the new amenity center. “It’s going to take a couple of more years to complete,” Cohen said. “When we’re through, it’s going to be all-new.”