Last month, Village Green Development presented its plans for a new downtown residential high rise to the Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. Nothing terribly novel about that, except the proposed 18-story apartment complex would include 22 percent micro apartments. The development community was abuzz at the prospect of teeny living units at S. 10th Street and Marquette.
Immediately, what may come to mind are the sleeping pods in Japanese capsule hotels, the new prefab micro units now under construction in New York City, or the studio apartments students cram into during or after college. But the “apodments” or micro apartments being designed today are anything but.
The micro apartments at Coze Flats in Minneapolis (which are also referred to as studios, with the smallest measuring 402 square feet) include “imported Italian range hoods, granite countertops, thoughtful floor plans, and floor to ceiling windows to make these spaces sing,” says Curt Gunsbury. He developed Coze Flats near the University of Minnesota, as well as Solhem in Uptown Minneapolis, 7West on the West Bank near the University of Minnesota, and Soltvå and Solhavn in the Warehouse District.
“Shrinking a traditional studio apartment to 250 to 350 square feet requires creative design,” adds David Graham, architect and principal with Elness Swenson Graham Architects, Inc. (ESG), Minneapolis. Several years ago, ESG worked on a residential project that included micro apartments and took the proposal to the Minneapolis Planning Commission to garner support for micro-units.
“Large windows and almost nautical detailing are necessary, with Murphy beds and other cabinetry that save space,” Graham says. “Well-designed smaller units respond to the new Millennial demographic seeking affordable, single-occupancy residential dwellings.”
In MSP micro = affordable
In Boston, Seattle and Washington, D.C., which are considered key metropolitan markets, micro apartments don’t mean micro rents. In San Francisco, rents can be upward of $1,700 a month. In the Twin Cities, however the concept is micro equals affordable.
“With 550-square-foot alcoves renting for $1200 [in the Twin Cities], I think the time for micro units in Minneapolis is ripe,” says Robert Loken, an architect with ESG. Adds Graham: “The fundamental reason for micro units is obviously to allow affordable housing primarily for singles — or for couples in an urban setting where they rent a small unit and live big with all the conveniences.”
Those conveniences include a great location with access to MSP’s downtowns, mass transit, bikeways, the Mississippi River and parks, and shopping, art, theater, restaurants and entertainment. Another essential is an abundance of amenities outside of the apartment unit, but within the residential complex itself.
Rooftop gardens, a swimming pool, exercise and fitness studios, and indoor and outdoor community spaces with bars and kitchens “perform as extended living spaces, so people don’t get stuck in their apartments,” explains Peter Gulstrand, property manager, Coze Flats. “Tenants can still enjoy their privacy, but also have people over to visit in the communal spaces. That flexibility appeals to people.”
“Micro units work because the demographic that chooses to live in a micro unit uses the community spaces within the building and the city itself as their living room,” Graham says.
“The main driver of smaller apartments is that household size continues to shrink throughout the U.S., including in the Twin Cities,” Loken argues. City of Minneapolis statistics show that people live alone in 43 percent of households.
“People are staying single longer than in the past,” Loken continues. “If they do eventually marry, they’re waiting longer to have children and are having fewer children. When new apartment projects open, the first units to lease up are the studios.”
Gulstrand can attest to the speed at which studios are snapped up. When 7West opened, “studios were the first to go. People are always calling our properties in Uptown and the North Loop, looking for studios, and we don’t have any.”
7West was designed, also, with plenty of 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom units, “because we always thought college students wanted to live together,” Gulstrand says. “But many of them want their own space to get their work done. Even our 1-bedroom units are in high demand.”
At Coze Flats, Gulstrand adds, tenants are largely graduate students, University of Minnesota faculty and professionals who love the quick access to downtown Minneapolis.
“It’s a fairly low-risk proposition to include one or two stacks of micros in a [residential] project,” Loken continues. “I lived comfortably in 17′ x 17′ for three years during grad school.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect number of micro apartments planned for the Village Green Development.
This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy.