Luxury On-Campus Apartments for Professionals: a Big Bet

Are these luxury apartments different enough to work?

The University of Minnesota campus has seen a boom in apartments in recent years, with The Bridges, WaHu, and other apartments being erected as an option for students. However, a new group of luxury 27-story apartments that will be taking over Washington Avenue in 2018 are offering residency to a different target, the working professionals on the University campus.

This raises a looming question: Who will actually live here, both immediately and long term? If working professionals aren’t attracted to the new complex, it will be difficult for the apartment to fall back on students due to its luxury status.

“There is some risk because it hasn’t been replicated here at the University, and it’s a larger project so the lease up will take more time than a typical 150 unit deal,” said Ted Bickel, vice president at Colliers International, a commercial real estate company.

Who will actually live here, both immediately and long term?

Bickel admitted that a lot of professionals would not want to live in a traditional student housing project, but that this is still a niche worth pursuing.

“When you look at the University, it’s one of the biggest employers in the state,” Bickel said. “Even if you could appeal to a very small fraction of the faculty of graduate students and the employee base that the U holds, I don’t think you’d have trouble filling up one project.”

There are obviously some benefits for young professionals to live in Stadium Village, as it’s right by the light rail, and it’s walkable to most employers.

Bickel said that this project is different than similar projects constructed at other major universities since campus is so close to a major city while other campuses are generally on the outskirts or rural parts of their town.

Even though Stadium Village is losing a swath of independent businesses due to the project, the apartments will still offer 10,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. It’s unclear what this space will offer as of yet, but they may be the first step to replacing the closed restaurants, along with Stadium Village culture.

Big Ten’s food isn’t what student groups like HvZ miss after the restaurant’s closure

Big Ten was one of the University of Minnesota campus’s food staples, providing everything from subs to Cajun burgers to ice cream sundaes. In spring 2016, though, it was a battleground for the Assassins game put on by the student group Minnesota Association for Zombie Enthusiasts (M.A.Z.E.), best known for their Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) game. Assassin M.O.s of choice such as spoon shanking were running rampant, players were being killed, resurrecting themselves, and being killed again, and the admins running the game had to declare the restaurant the only non-residential safe zone all in one hour.

Photographer: Xavier Wang

Photographer: Xavier Wang

For people new to campus, the love for Big Ten restaurant might have seemed overblown, but it provided what a lot of the new food chains on campus have to live up to still: a place that was a little lively, a little homey, and a lot welcoming.

“HvZ started going to Big 10 as a part of our initiative to expand the social element of the group outside of the game itself, and partially as an offshoot of another student group that Alex [Taylor] and I were officers of,” Andy Graber, one of the leaders of HvZ along with Taylor, said.

HvZ had a cult following already from its biannual, weeklong games—think Nerf guns and orange head bands—but Big 10 really helped move it to “a closer gathering of friends instead of just acquaintances,” as Taylor put it. They started forming a trivia team and had weekly battles against another Big Ten regular, the marching band, and the regular meetup helped people make friendships outside of the weeklong game camaraderie.

“It’s going to be hard to keep the same sense of kinship without somewhere similar to Big 10 for us to congregate at,” Taylor said.

Hearing the two leaders talk about it, the words they use do not describe anything particularly mind-blowing or novel.

“It was a nice place to have a chill social environment where we could talk and get to know each other over some reasonably-priced food and drink,” Graber said.

“It’s going to be hard to keep the same sense of kinship without somewhere similar to Big 10 for us to congregate at.”

“We always felt very welcomed there,” Taylor said. “The best was just knowing that we had somewhere to meet up every week, have a couple drinks with a large group of close friends, and let the stress of everything just fade away over the course of the evening.”

So what made it so special? There were some logistical benefits. At Big Ten, students above and below the drinking age could hang out easily, which is an issue that the group is having in some of the other locations it is trying out. According to Graber, Big Ten also had the elbow room that places such as Stub and Herbs, Sally’s and Blarney’s lacked on their busier nights.

Photographer: Xavier Wang

Photographer: Xavier Wang

Still, there’s definitely something intangible that connected HvZ to Big Ten; the feeling of affection for the restaurant probably grew as the group’s community did. It was in the routine; it was the hangout; it was a part of their campus culture like it had been for many other students over the years. Mustering up motivation to find another place to try to recapture that feeling is hard to do when the group didn’t willingly give up Big Ten to begin with, Graber said.

The students who make up HvZ are just some of many who wish that Big Ten could keep on adding to those years. It’s a small business legacy that even people who have never been to the restaurant can appreciate and, at risk of being melodramatic, mourn over.