Brooklyn Park City Council Member Peter Crema once campaigned on a “no new apartments” pledge, citing the nuisance and crime problems linked to some of the aging cookie-cutter apartments already peppering the city.
Yet even Crema acknowledges that a $90 million upscale-apartment project proposed by Doran Companies could be a shot in the arm for the northern suburb, answering a housing need for young professionals and downsizing empty nesters.
“This is a different product, and there is a need for it,” Crema said.
Located on the Hwy. 610 corridor across from the Target campus, the 480-unit project will be the first market-rate apartment complex built in Brooklyn Park since 1992.
It is one of several new market-rate apartment complexes in the works in the suburbs, reversing a decades-old trend in which single-family home construction has driven growth and been the preference of many suburban City Council members.
Brooklyn Park Community Development Director Kim Berggren believes the shift is primarily market-driven.
“We are seeing this new lifestyle renter,” Berggren said. “We are trying to fill the gaps in our housing options.”
In many instances, cities are now chipping in dollars to make the apartment projects happen. Changing lifestyles, especially among millennials and baby boomers; hesitation to buy after the price free fall of the previous decade, and the expansion of light and commuter rail into the suburbs are spurring the trend.
A hot rental market is also pushing developers to look at options outside of the urban core. In 2014, Minneapolis replaced Philadelphia as the 10th-most-expensive U.S. rental market, according to the real estate database Zumper.
“This will set a new standard in the marketplace,” Berggren said. “There are a lot of young professionals looking for a housing option. They are waiting for a project like this to become available.”
Even with strong support from the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority, developer Kelly Doran was still asked to stand up and differentiate his project from existing apartments.
“People confuse the apartments of old and the new generation of living,” he said. “There is a growing part of our society that is choosing as a lifestyle to live in an apartment project.
“There isn’t going to be anything comparable to what this project is,” he said, describing plans for heated underground parking, fitness center, a deluxe clubhouse and private party spaces.
Doran, known for his upscale student-apartment projects in Minneapolis, is investing $11 million into the project and borrowing an additional $76 million. And the city’s Economic Development Authority is offering up to $7 million in aid over 15 years. The amount of assistance would be reduced if Doran’s profits exceed a certain threshold.
Doran said he is also exploring apartment projects in Hopkins and Maple Grove. He said changing market forces and evolving opinions about density and development have drawn him to the suburbs. Suburban councils have come to understand that young professionals working in the suburbs are seeking more compact urban enclaves with apartments, retail and coffee shops close to the job.
“Cities are now evolving and are willing to accept some more density,” Doran said. “Many communities were resistant to multifamily housing, perceiving they had enough of it. Some of the existing product they had was old, tired and not kept up.”
Action in other suburbs
Other suburbs are also approving their first market-rate apartment projects in decades:
• The Blaine City Council will consider approval of the Emberwood Apartments, 112 units on the north edge of the city. It’s the first market-rate apartment complex the city has considered in two decades.
• In Fridley, construction has started on Cielo, a 259-apartment complex blocks from the Northstar commuter rail station. It’s the city’s first market-rate apartment complex since 1988.
• Shoreview approved construction of Lakeview Terrace, the first market-rate apartments in nearly 40 years. It’s all brick on the outside, with heated parking. Inside, apartments have 9- and 10-feet-tall ceilings, crown moldings, granite countertops and other high-end finishes.
“At six stories, it’s our tallest building and the densest development we’ve ever done,” said Tom Simonson, Shoreview’s community development director.
Working to provide apartments is part of preparing for the future, he said.
“Our home values have always been really strong,” Simonson said. “That is usually a positive, but it does limit the number of people who can afford homes. The idea is we may be able to capture some younger people interested in making Shoreview their home.”
‘Retail chases rooftops’
St. Louis Park, which borders Minneapolis’ Uptown area, was on the front edge of the trend.
“Over the last five years, we’ve had over 1,000 apartment units constructed. We’ve got 330 under construction now,” said the city’s economic development coordinator, Greg Hunt. “St. Louis Park is a very progressive community. There is a lot of interest from young professionals and the empty nesters.”
The apartment boom is fueling a commercial and retail revival, including renovation of the Shoppes at Knollwood, he said.
“Retail chases rooftops,” Hunt said. “With more residential coming in, you are going to attract retailers.”