In a sign of deepening demand for student housing projects, one of the largest apartment managers in the nation paid $93 million this week for a pair of apartment buildings for students near the University of Minnesota.
With a combined 310-plus units, the Bridges and the Knoll are among the largest newly built buildings near campus, and both were built and owned by Bloomington-based Doran Cos., which developed an additional four student housing buildings that have all since been sold.
Kelly Doran said the buildings, which were completed in 2013 and 2014, were both fully occupied and that his divestment in the area was simply a response to an insatiable demand for Twin Cities apartment buildings from national investors.
Doran was one of the most prolific developers in the area, which saw the construction of thousands of new units in the area. His company also helped set a new standard for student housing on campus.
The buyer in this case was TH Real Estate, an international real estate investment fund that is already deeply invested in the Twin Cities. A related entity owns several large apartment complexes in the Twin Cities metro, including Devonshire in Bloomington and Bristol Village, one of its latest acquisitions.
The firm has focused on multifamily housing for more than two decades, but like a growing number of investment companies, the firm has put student housing at public universities high on its shopping list.
The properties on University Avenue were marketed as a package by Cushman & Wakefield’s Multifamily Advisory Group, and they quickly garnered considerable interest. There were at least 10 serious offers, but more than 100 interested parties signed confidentiality agreements — an indication that they are serious shoppers.
Listing agent Lance Steiger, a director with Cushman and Wakefield, said he’s seeing deepening demand for student housing because it’s perceived as being more recession-proof. Typically demand for such projects is modest, but it’s getting far more intense.
“It’s very likely there will still be 50,000 students at the U if we’re in a recession,” he said.
The U area was at the leading edge of the multifamily development boom in the Twin Cities metro, and for a time that market was showing signs of oversupply. Steiger said that time has passed and now that the buildings have stabilized and there hasn’t been significant new development, there are no longer the same concerns about oversupply, he said.
“There is a lot of confidence in the market,” he said.
Thomas O’Neil, a vice president with Dougherty Mortgage, said that after virtually no new projects last year in the U area, there are now 1,400 units in progress including the Hub, a 26-story apartment tower along Washington Avenue in Stadium Village.
The deal also represents a shift in Doran’s geographic focus from the central cities to the suburbs, where there’s been relatively little apartment development over the past couple decades. Doran still owns some commercial space in the Dinkytown area, but has no plans for further student housing development. The company has several large apartment buildings under construction and proposals in the pipeline for several more in a handful of suburbs including Shakopee and Maple Grove.
Doran said that selling the Bridges and the Knoll — his last Dinkytown apartment buildings — is somewhat bittersweet because it signals the end of a seven-year development spree that began in 2010 with Sydney Hall, which was named for his daughter.
“From the very beginning we designed and built our projects to be a notch above and then staffed them with exceptional employees who were dedicated to serving and caring for our student residents with respect,” he said. “It was a formula that worked and we are very proud of our success. We will surely miss having a presence at the University.”