It’s easy to think of baby boomers and millennials as opposing forces in the apartment market: What each wants in a new development is so different that builders must choose one or the other.
Boomers downsizing from suburban homes demand a lot of space for their many possessions and ample parking for cars they are not about to give up. Millennials, on the other hand, are seeking smaller units and want to be near bike and pedestrian trails for their transportation needs.
But the two groups’ preferences overlap in many ways. Finding a sweet spot suitable to both is Job One for both developers and suburban government officials seeking to spark economic growth as the apartment-building wave spills beyond the urban core.
How to do so has become a more pressing issue as developers run out of easy and affordable places to build within the city limits, and the cohort of millennial renters who would rather live in the suburbs than downtown is becoming more of a market force, according to a panel of experts speaking this week to a gathering of the Sensible Land Use Coalition in St. Louis Park.
When it comes to making a market-rate apartment project in a suburban setting work, catering to the two groups — as well as to the often-neglected Generation X sandwiched between them — is a necessity, said Maureen Michalski, director of development for Minneapolis-based developer Schafer Richardson.
For instance, contrary to the assumption that millennials need to be near mass transit, “the amenities in suburban projects don’t necessarily need to include access to transit. For instance, at our new Parkway Off Central Apartments in Blaine, it’s not near transit, but we’re seeing a lot of interest in that fact that it’s near a park trail system.”
That 191-unit building, set to open in September, has a wide unit mix ranging from 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom apartments to 429-square-foot studio micro-units, thus covering both baby boomers and millennials. But Michalski said the most surprising thing about the project is that the micro-units have been leased the fastest.
“You’d think it would be the bigger units that would go first because of our assumptions that it’s mostly baby boomer renters in the suburbs,” she said. “But we’ve found that there’s a strong demand from millennials who are from the area and who don’t want to move far from home. But they also don’t want roommates, so the studios are an answer for them.”
Also key to making a suburban project work for both groups is a location that each can agree is desirable.
Ideally, such sites need to be near a freeway to satisfy the car-intensive ways of baby boomers and not so far from downtown as to deter millennials who want to bike-commute to their jobs.
Golden Valley associate city planner Emily Goellner, also a panelist at the land use event, said her city had just such a site in the southwest quadrant of Interstate 394 and Hwy. 100, a parcel long owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation that’s now being transformed by Denver-based Forum Real Estate Group into the Talo Apartments.
“What that project demonstrates is how cities can think creatively about these surplus land sites and how they can be used for housing needs serving both older and younger populations,” she said.
The Talo Apartments are a luxury, market-rate project now under construction at a building site highly visible from both freeways. When completed in April, the building will contain 303 units and boast a close-in location with a suburban feel and easy access to major auto corridors, just the ticket for spanning the lifestyle gap of the two generations.
“Politically, it’s a challenge to build for density in suburban cities, and Golden Valley is no different,” Goellner said, illustrating the importance for cities seeking to add multifamily housing to look at underutilized spots, citing St. Louis Park’s Central Park West as another example.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Real Estate Journal.