Giarratana places focus on micro-housing

1818 Church to feature 12 studios averaging 378 square feet

Tony Giarratana — the man whom Nashvillians best recognize as the builder of big skyscrapers — is broadening his approach by developing structures that feature tiny living quarters.

Two weeks ago, Giarratana announced his plans for 1818 Church (pictured below), a 15-story Midtown apartment building that, if built, will offer 12 studio units with an average of 378 square feet; 190 one-bedrooms with an average of 549; and 36 two-bedroom units with an average 902. These square footage numbers are essentially unheard of for a post-2000-built urban Nashville apartment building.

The announcement followed Giarratana’s late 2013 announcement that Giarratana Nashville LLC plans to break ground this spring on what likely would be the first privately developed micro-housing apartment building the city has seen since the day mid-century modernist apartment building Barbizon Apartments (studios in which span a mere 388 feet) opened in Midtown. (Read more here.)

To be located on the northwest corner of the 22nd Avenue North and State Street intersection near the popular Elliston Place district, the six-story 145-unit building (for which no name has been announced) will feature many small apartments with sliding panels and Murphy beds to maximize functionality. About 40 percent of the units will cover approximately 500 square feet or fewer.

Giarratana (pictured) said the roughly $26 million building’s apartments will average only 665 square feet. By comparison, many apartment buildings constructed within Nashville’s various mixed-use urban districts since 2000 offers an average unit size of at least 675 square feet and very few units, if any, sized at sub-500 square feet.

Still, Giarratana said his focus on micro-housing is not necessarily breaking new ground in the local market.

“Apartment units of plus or minus 500 square feet are, in fact, both popular and in demand in the Nashville market,” he said.

For example, Pine Street Flats has 25 430-square-feet units, Bell Midtown has 11 562-square-feet units, the Stahlman Building has 25 527-square-feet units and Velocity has 58 442-square-feet units.

But few, if any, recently developed residential buildings offer multiple units with fewer than 400 square feet. In this respect, Giarratana is involved in an experiment of sorts. And one that could prove successful. 

“[Micro-housing] is a growing trend not only here, but across the country, and it reflects a changing market,” said Craig Owensby, spokesman for the Metro Planning Department. “Particularly among younger people, there’s increasing demand for more compact living spaces close to transit and the city center.”

Adam Leibowitz, who has developed various residential buildings on the city’s north side and is now focused on apartment project Amplify on Main in East Nashville, said adding micro-housing units to the city’s urban core is “something that I believe has merit.”

“With the housing demand in the neighborhoods that are being designed or currently with high-density live, work and play, the more likely this style of housing will succeed,” Leibowitz said. “What Tony is proposing seems to be a good fit for its [Midtown] location. Not all urban neighborhoods in Nashville are ready for this trend, but it is something that will continue to spread, specifically in our most walkable neighborhoods.”

Relatedly, Giarratana Development currently is developing 21 Elliston, also in Midtown. The company is timing the openings of its 1818 Church and the unnamed building at 22nd Avenue North and State Street in such a way as to avoid harming each other, Giarratana said. 

“Our three Midtown projects have staggered delivery dates approximately one year apart,” he said. “More specifically, we plan to deliver 105 units (21st/Church) in summer 2014, 146 units (22nd/State) in summer 2015, and 238 units (19th/Church) in summer 2016. Midtown is an excellent submarket for this type of units but we feel that all of Nashville’s urban markets are suitable for such units.

TK Davis, an associate professor with the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design and a former design director of the Nashville Civic Design Center, said Giarratana Development is wise to be assertively pushing micro-housing.

“The motivation for promoting this dwelling type in downtown urban cores is that it potentially doubles the density of the building relative to more conventional downtown housing and potentially generates more affordable housing by condensing the unit size,” said Davis, who recently had his students study future micro-housing options for urban Nashville. “With most downtowns having relatively high land costs, by reducing unit size, both construction and development costs are reduced per unit.”

Giarratana said he has been fortunate to have had strong financial partners supportive of his company’s plans for buildings with smallish quarters.

“We became interested in unit size back in the late 1990s during the lease-up of The Cumberland,” he said. “What we learned was that young people were not impressed that our rooms were larger or our closets bigger. [Rather], they were concerned about the ‘absolute cost’ of leasing or purchasing our units. As a result, we have been steadily working to create increasingly more efficient units.”

To show the evolution, Giarratana said units in The Cumberland (which offers both apartments and condos) average 960 square feet, units in Viridian and Encore (condo towers that opened in the mid- to late-2000s, respectively) average 870 square feet and units in West End Village and Park 25 (two newish apartment projects with which Giarratana Development was involved during their early phases) average 720 square feet.

“It’s admittedly challenging, but we believe that micro-units will allow us to reduce the average area of our units to 600 square feet,” Giarratana said. “This will make our apartment and condominium units affordable to the largest possible universe of renters and buyers. Our direct personal experience with thousands of Nashville renters and buyers is guiding us in this direction.”

As to making 1818 Church’s 378-square-feet units as functional as possible, Giarratana said Murphy beds and small kitchens will be utilized.

“[Murphy beds] have been upgraded and refined over the years and the current product is both high quality and attractive,” he said. “We plan to incorporate them into our micro-units. Galley kitchens have been commonplace in Nashville for many years and we have used them extensively.

“Back in 1996-98, for example, our smallest “A” unit plans in The Cumberland had the dishwashers located immediately below the kitchen sink,” he added. “Our micro-units, at just under 400 square feet, may be groundbreaking for Nashville. But in mature markets such as New York City, it is not uncommon to see units of less than 300 square feet.”