In mid-December, a man wearing a Santa suit died under suspicious circumstances in the lobby of Mill & Main, a seven-story apartment building across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis.
But no one dialed 911. The “victim” was, in fact, an actor, one of four hired to entertain residents attending a Murder Mystery holiday party sponsored by the building’s management.
Clad in tacky Christmas sweaters, blinking light-up hats and jingle-bell earrings, some 75 guests sipped from bottles of Nordeast beer or tumblers of wine while they played detective.
“Tell me what you know,” Suzanne Huggett demanded of one of the suspects, flashing play money for a bribe.
The occupant of a studio unit, Huggett, 33, sat at a table with her boyfriend and a half-dozen fellow residents, including several twice her age.
Huggett was introduced to Mill & Main when her mother moved there after selling their family home in Lakeville and downsizing to a riverfront apartment. About the time her mother decided to make a permanent move South, Huggett moved into the building.
“It was an easy decision for me because I knew the building and her community. It suits me being around mixed ages,” said Huggett, who works for an outdoors nonprofit. “My mom’s friends are now my friends.”
Mill & Main reflects a twist on the trend of luxury apartment living. It’s a prime example of a “barbell building,” dubbed to describe its demographic profile. The building appeals equally to two groups of residents: older millennials who are firing up their careers and baby boomers in the process of lowering the temperature on theirs.
Events like the holiday party are routinely staged to bring the two groups together to mingle and establish casual cross-generational friendships so they can greet one another in the exercise room, at the rooftop grills or in the elevators when they’re taking their dogs out for a jaunt in the park across the street.
“We encourage community and conversation. We set up themed potlucks every month that are well-attended by all the ages,” said Ali Bichler, the building’s senior property manager. “There’s a puzzle in front of the fireplace, and we see them grabbing a coffee from the coffee bar and sitting for a while.”
That’s the vibe Kathy and David Cooper were seeking after they sold the house in Plymouth where they’d raised their family.
They looked at 55-plus housing but decided they weren’t ready. “We rented a condo for four years but everyone there was our age,” said Kathy, 66, a retired speech pathologist. “Three years ago, we found this place. We go to all the activities and happy hours. The mix of ages is what we love.”
The demographic mix is similar at Loden SV, a 206-unit development in Shoreview owned by Greco Properties, according to John Graff, director of leasing.
“It’s a seller’s market, so we see mature professionals in the area deciding to get rid of their 4,000-square-foot homes and rent,” said Graff. “We [also] have people out of college for a while, ready to gravitate away from Uptown/downtown. Parking is easier, and rent is a little lower.”
Amenities at Loden SV include grills, a club room, a state-of-the-art theater and a pool — “all the bells and whistles, like living at a resort or a lodge Up North,” said Graff. “We brought the downtown vibe to the suburban market.”
Loden SV also plans events to bring its intergenerational community together. In December, Loden hosted a wrapping party, furnishing holiday paper and bows, appetizers and cocktails. Sixty residents of all ages gathered to get their packages looking festive.
Management puts together inclusive events a couple of times a month — such as Bloody Mary bars and happy hours — so that residents see each other and interact more than just when they’re getting their mail, Graff said.
Loden also built a pickleball court with the idea it would attract older residents; the sport got its start by appealing to athletes in midlife and beyond because it’s easy on the joints. Every morning, spring through fall, the court attracts retirees. “But after work, [you] see a lot of young professionals playing, often with older partners,” Graff said.
The new renters
At Mill & Main, the barbell concept emerged organically as renters showed up to sign leases and move in. The amenity-loaded property appealed equally to young professionals too busy to take on the chores of homeownership and empty-nesters who had grown weary of them.
“We weren’t smart enough to fully grasp the mix and market it that way. After a while we saw that this exists,” said Kelly Doran, founder of the development company that built and manages Mill & Main. “They like a building with people from different backgrounds, races and ages. It adds to the culture of the life here.”
Several other Doran properties, including the Reserve at Arbor Lakes, a 257-unit development in Maple Grove, and the Moline, a six-story complex in downtown Hopkins, have a renter profile with a concentration of millennials and boomers.
“These older [suburban] renters want to stay close to their community. The young people might just be coming to the Twin Cities; jumping from small town to downtown can be a big leap,” Doran explained.
The prevalence and popularity of high-end rentals reflects a significant change in housing patterns over the past decade. Coming out of the real estate collapse of the recession, renting is regarded differently.
“Apartments used to be for people in transition in their lives. They were graduating and moving out of their parents’ homes, getting divorced, moving to a new community,” said Doran. “Now we have lifestyle renters who could afford to buy but choose to rent.”
According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of high-income rental households (identified as those with earnings of $150,000 or more per year) jumped by 175% between 2007 and 2017.
Many affluent renters want the ease of calling a landlord to handle maintenance and upkeep, and they’re willing to pay for it. Monthly rent for a one-bedroom at Mill & Main starts at $1,500, rises to $3,100 for a three-bedroom unit and tops out at $9,500 for an expansive penthouse.
“This rent is not cheap, so it’s mostly professionals. They’re polite; there’s no college kids leaving beer cans in the elevator or sneaking into the garage,” said Nathan Porter, who moved to Mill & Main with his wife, Jamie Grant, after their fall wedding.
Although they’re employed in the northern suburbs — Grant, 29, is a nurse-practitioner in Anoka County and Porter, 34, works at Medtronic — they find the commute a fair exchange for the view of downtown and the easy access to restaurants, live music and running trails.
“We could afford to buy, but our generation in general is afraid of commitment on long-term decisions, and a house is a long-term decision,” said Porter. “We want to take our time. We like the flexibility of renting while we see where our careers might go.”
Although cross-generational hostilities are often cited in media accounts about conflicts in the workplace, the snide “OK Boomer” meme seems absent in buildings where, by all accounts, the two generations coexist in peace and even pleasure.
“Despite all the generational finger-pointing, the two groups are well positioned to enjoy each other,” said Rebecca Kolls, senior consumer strategist for Gartner, a research and advisory firm. “Baby boomers and their millennial kids have a lifetime being in close relationships. As boomers age, and kids become adults, both groups can transfer those positive feelings to their neighbors.”
Retiree Barbara Wolfe, who has lived in a seventh-floor apartment with her husband for the past year, said they have “quite an active social life” booked with activities that include residents of all ages.
“You hear about young people rolling their eyes, but it must have passed me by. I’ve never run into anyone who was the slightest bit rude or disrespectful,” she said. “The atmosphere is friendly.”
“We never thought we would rent. Renting is for kids,” added her husband, Bill. “But we really like it. We can be carefree.”
While the boomers are through raising their families, many of the millennial renters have not yet started theirs. As the younger bulge of the barbell welcomes children, they may be drawn to the traditional American dream of homeownership.
“The older renters see this as a place that will be their home for the next three to five years. The millennials’ time frame is a little shorter,” said Doran. “Right now, we have a lot of committed young couples who are getting dogs.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.