A Note about Density

I’ve been obsessing about whether 80 units per acre is realistic for my project about how many more people we can cram into downtown Minneapolis.  In my first post, I speculated that the city may need to institute some development controls to get the density up.  Now I’m not so sure.

My last post, about the North Loop, compared the Holden Building with the Rock Island Lofts as two examples of buildings that use their entire site, and I briefly mentioned the Heritage Landings as a new building that devoted a good chunk of its site to parking.  You may be surprised to see their density characteristics:

Building name Acres Units Density
Holden Building 0.5 120 240
Rock Island Lofts 0.68 61 90
Heritage Landing 2.5 237 95

(it should be noted that I’m only counting the eight-story chunk of the Holden building, not the one-story piece)

It is interesting that the density doesn’t necessarily correspond with the site coverage (it seems to have more to do with unit size), but also interesting that 90 unit/acre seems to be a floor.

So I looked into some other buildings – the earliest being the Landings – the much-maligned suburban townhomes that cut off the neighborhood from the river – and the Mill City Apartments.  The Landings fulfill their suburban reputation, measuring between 4.9 and 6.4 units per acre, depending on whether you count the roads within the development (which I think would be fair, since as a Planned Unit Development, the developers decided how many roads would be built, and how wide they would be – too many and too wide, in my opinion).  That’s roughly comparable to suburban neighborhoods built in the 20’s-40s.

The Mill City Apartments, built in 2001 is sort of a prototype new urban building – it has an urban form (tall and oriented towards the street, with parking in back) but is built of cheap materials and detailing, reminiscent of a 90s strip mall.  It also has relatively low density, mostly because of the large amount of surface parking (more than half the lot)  – it has the density of the typical mid-century walk-up at 35 units per acre.

But it seems that as the years went on, densities increased.  I’m not going to pretend this is a comprehensive list, but many of these details are harder to find then you might think:

Building name Acres Units Density Yr built
Heritage Landing 2.5 237 95 2000
Mill City Apts 1.13 40 35 2001
Rock Island Lofts 0.68 61 90 2004
Bookman Stacks 0.63 54 86 2005
Carlyle 1 280 280 2006
Bridgewater 2.07 283 137 2007
Zenith 0.815 65 80 2008
Ivy 0.29 92 317 2008
Blue 1.59 242 152 2008
Murals 1.02 109 107 2008
Mill District City Apartments 1.26 175 139 2010
Acme Tag 1.81 237 131 2011
Emmanual Housing 0.6 101 168 2011

(Edit: I’ve updated the chart due to David’s information about the number of units at Zenith.  If anyone else stumbles upon this entry, I welcome any additional corrections.)

Please note that some of the info on # units and most of the year built data come from real estate websites – not the most reliable source.  I think it is interesting how high the densities have climbed, especially considering that many of the projects here are in Uptown, rather than Downtown.

To me, it indicates that 110 units per acre is a more plausible assumption for average density.  But just to be safe, I’ve decided to calculate at 80 units per acre and 140 units per acre also.

I hope we get zoning in place and city incentives to build at 140 – but considering there is currently no floor on density and few incentives, it is encouraging that the market regularly supports high-density development.

6 comments on “A Note about Density

  1. David Tinjum says:

    First off, great topic, one I really support. Same goes for your entire blog.

    The Zenith has 65 units. We live across the street at the Bridgewater, and have toured the Zenith. I’ve created a list of all of the Condos in the Mill District neighborhood, if I can find it I’ll come back and post it.

    • Thanks David. And good call on Zenith – 165 units doesn’t really make sense, now that I think about it.

      And I’d love to check out your condo list – if you happen upon it please do send it my way.

      • David Tinjum says:

        Here’s the Mill District list. Name and address only, wish I could remember the source since it included number of units. I’ll keep looking. Note this list does not contain apartment buildings.

        607 Washington, 607 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis

        Metropolitan Lofts, 545 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis

        American Trio Lofts, 250 Park Avenue, Minneapolis

        Bridgewater, 215 10th Avenue South, Minneapolis

        Humboldt Lofts, 750 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis

        North Star Lofts 117 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis

        Park Avenue Lofts, 200 Park Avenue, Minneapolis

        Stone Arch Lofts, 600 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis

        RiverWest Condominiums, 401 1st Street South, Minneapolis

        The Whitney Landmark Residences, 150 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis

        The Metropolitan Lofts, 545 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis

        The Whitney Landmark Residences, 150 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis

  2. While it’s tempting to see a trend in the data you listed, I see a different story. There are multiple distributions present in the overall data. Try segmenting it by building type (low-rise vs. mid-rise vs. high-rise). Then see if there’s a trend towards greater density.

    • You have a good point, and I will try to respond to it in more detail in later posts. I now have around 400 buildings in my density database, a decent approximation of postwar multifamily building in Minneapolis.

      But the buildings shown in this early entry are mostly in the mid-rise class, that is, 6-12 stories. Even those at the extremes show variations in density that can mostly be explained by changes in time in the amount of the lot that it is acceptable to utilize.

      Take the two lowest buildings (that happen to have almost the same names), Mill City Apts at 4 stories and Mill District City Apts at 5. The latter isn’t just a fifth denser than the former. While often the difference in density can be attributed to unit size, the latter building is at a higher price point than the former. The major difference here is definitely due to site coverage, and I’d attribute that to the recent emphasis on covered parking that wasn’t as important in the 90s.

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