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Company aims to recreate Manchester micro apartment success in Concord

  • An apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Apartments have a variety of layouts, but a common theme is maximizing square footage with built-in furniture. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • An apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring micro living-style housing to Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • An apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring micro living-style housing to Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • An apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring micro living-style housing to Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Newton Kershaw III shows off a Murphy bed that converts into a desk in an apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring similar micro living-style apartments to Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Newton Kershaw III shows off a Murphy bed that converts into a desk in an apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring similar micro living-style apartments to Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Newton Kershaw III shows off an apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring similar micro living-style apartments to Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Newton Kershaw III shows off an apartment at The Flats at Hanover Commons in Manchester. Elm Grove Companies is looking to bring micro living-style apartments to Concord similar to the type found at The Flats. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • The Star Building at 15 Pleasant St. was bought by Elm Grove Companies earlier this year. The real estate company plans to bring micro living-style apartments to the location. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Walls that magically swallow a couch or desk and turn into a bed. A sliding door reveals a bathroom, maybe after ducking through a row of clothes on coathangers.

This isn’t a fun house full of trap doors; these are typical features of “micro units,” apartments with tiny square footage and built-in furniture that’s full of design secrets to uncover that maximize space and storage.

And in the near future, a real estate investment firm is looking to bring 12 of these micro units to the downtown area.

Elm Grove Companies announced in October the purchase of four brick buildings, including 5-7 S. State St., 15-17 Pleasant St., 26-32 Pleasant St., and 19 Pleasant St. for a total of $2.4 million.

The Manchester-based real estate company plans to add 41 new apartments to the area. Of those units, the aforementioned dozen micro units will be built above the Star Building at 15 Pleasant St., said Elm Grove CEO Newton Kershaw III. The company intends to invest $2 million into the structure, according to a report by Concord Deputy City Manager Matt Walsh.

The hope is that the apartments will see similar success to The Flats @ Hanover Commons, which Kershaw said is the first instance of micro living in the state, and capitalize on a trend toward living spaces that prioritize community engagement over square footage.

The Flats are located in the former site of the Farnum Center, a drug and alcohol recovery and detox center operated by Easter Seals. Elm Grove purchased the building in December 2015 and opened in November 2016 after redoing the entire floor plan.

“(The Flats) filled up within two months, which is practically instantaneous,” Kershaw said of the Manchester property.

Kershaw said they could have kept the Farnum Center’s 33-room design, but the prior layout didn’t quite fit the vision. He said he studied micro-unit trends over the past 10 years domestically and internationally, and he was particularly interested in the revamp of the Arcade Providence, the country’s first shopping mall.

That structure was built in 1828, but was given new life last year when the former storefronts were transformed into 48 apartments with floor plans of 225 to 775 square feet, with most measuring about 300 square feet or less. The complex also kept some retail stores, according to an Oct. 16, 2016, Business Insider article.

Hanover Flats isn’t too different, size-wise: Floor plans range from “The Essex” at 280 square feet to “The Manchester” at 546 square feet; Kershaw estimated the average size is 350-380 square feet.

That square footage isn’t cheap, either. The smallest studio goes for $950. One of the building’s few two-bedrooms units goes for around $1,400.

And to someone who is used to living in older housing stock, The Flats do have a different feel. Built-in and multi-use furniture is heavily utilized, and the majority of the floor plans are open.

But the building’s location makes up for all of that, Kershaw said.

“We were able to identify within an 8-minute walk businesses that have a thousand-plus well-paid employees who were wanting to come to a nicer apartment living style,” he said. “It’s more than just a place to reside; it’s creating a community feeling, where having your living environment is bigger than just your living space.”

For instance, located on The Flat’s first floor is the Restoration Cafe. During the day, the cafe’s sitting areas are open to the public, and are still available to building tenants after they close. Kershaw said it’s common to see residents hanging out at the tables.

The building is also dog-friendly, making the nearby park even more appealing. And then there’s Elm Street, Manchester’s main drag, which is around 3½ blocks from The Flats.

Kershaw said being close to downtown is a key component of what makes micro living successful.

“I think there’s a social aspect you can’t quantify,” he said. “Location is important with this kind of development. ... If it’s not in proximity to the downtown, I’d question whether the units would be as desirable.”

Elm Grove first considered Concord for a housing project three years ago, Kershaw said, but didn’t think there was there was enough excitement downtown until the Main Street revitalization project was complete.

But the Star Building won’t be a copycat of The Flats, Kershaw said. Instead, the 12 micro units will take advantage of the building’s high ceilings and have loft-style floor plans.

A national trend

The growth of smaller living has not gone unnoticed by the housing industry. The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization, conducted a national study on micro units in 2014, finding that smaller units are becoming more popular across the country.

What counts as a micro unit depends on the market; generally, the ULI defines such housing as a small studio apartment, typically less than 350 square feet, with a fully functioning and accessibility-compliant kitchen and bathroom.

According to “The Macro View on Micro Units,” studio and one-bedroom units accounted for 51 percent of the 2012–13 national completions, or housing units that are ready for occupation within a certain time frame. That’s a little bigger than 2008–09’s 48.6 percent share and drastically higher from 2002–03’s norm of 41 percent.

The ULI also found that smaller units had higher overall occupancy rates. Units with less than 600 square feet enjoyed at 91.3 percent occupancy rate in early 2014, compared to the 89.6 percent rate for midsized units from 600 to 1,000 square feet and the 89.3 percent in large units of more than 1,000 square feet.

A big component of what drives the demand for smaller units is a desire to live closer to amenities or downtown living, and to live without a roommate, the study found. The number of new two-bedroom units built declined from 45.4 percent to 38.5 percent from 2003-13; units with three or more bedrooms built in 2012-13 made up 10.6 percent of new additions, down from 13.6 percent 10 years earlier.

But money was also a factor, the ULI found. In a survey with 3,407 respondents, 73 percent ranked lower rent compared with a conventional-sized apartment as the first or second reason they would choose a micro unit; 53 percent said lower rent would be their first reason. Living near a desired location, reduced utility costs and the ability to live alone were the next popular responses.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)