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Flats on Howard are cozy, and they're going fast

You might call it a mini-trend that’s emerging at the new Flats on Howard neighborhood on the western fringe of downtown Omaha.

Studio apartments no bigger than 400 square feet and renting at an average $580 are the hot model at the $20 million redevelopment site that’s opening in phases through 2016.

“People like the price,” Arch Icon Development’s Mindy Crook said of the small urban abodes. “The younger generations don’t want to have a lot to maintain — it’s that whole concept of work hard, play hard.”

Taking a cue from that demand, NuStyle Development is launching its latest renovation project nearby and plans to offer 24 similarly priced studio apartments at what will become the Sterling, at 541 S. 24th St.

When done later this year, the three-story brick Sterling will become part of the Flats on Howard community that now has expanded to a total of eight structures and a cluster of row houses. In all there are 177 rehabilitated market-rent units of varying sizes.

On one end of the rent range is the smallest studio without a carved-out bedroom for $500 a month; on the other end is a two-bedroom row house for $1,200.

Announced last fall, the project has its first wave of tenants now moving into the housing development bounded generally by 22nd and 24th Streets, Dewey Avenue and Landon Court.

Of the total dwellings, 69 will be studios, 84 will be one-bedroom apartments and the rest will have two bedrooms.

By the end of the month, 64 will be available for occupancy. Two-thirds of those have been leased, and the quickest to go have been the tiniest, which also are the least expensive.

While so-called micro apartments are more the norm in larger, landlocked metropolitan cities, they’re starting to pop up around Omaha’s urban core.

Not far from the Flats on Howard, for example, is the effort to transform the historic Anderson building into housing that includes 300-square-foot micro apartments.

Developer Dave Paladino of Landmark Group Real Estate calls the project at 701 S. 24th St., which includes larger dwellings as well, affordable “workforce housing.”

Just south of downtown in Little Italy, the 8 Street Apartments by Bluestone Development is recognized for its smaller dwellings and urban street decor.

Crook said the interest in the small studio became evident to her when some callers committed to a lease even without seeing the apartments.

Much of the interest lies in price and location, said Crook’s husband, Dustin, who is a principal in Arch Icon along with Darin Smith.

The Arch Icon partners said that former Nebraska football star Ndamukong Suh’s company, TFL Development, no longer is working with them on the Flats, but they’re seeking other projects to take on together.

NuStyle Development will provide property management services for the Flats. NuStyle’s Todd Heistand, who is the father of Arch Icon’s Mindy Crook, said he took on the Sterling redevelopment because the property became available, he had a crew open to work on it and he wanted to see the broader neighborhood thrive.

With the Sterling, the project site received about $2.7 million in tax-increment financing, $3.25 million in federal historic tax credits and $2.29 million in state historic tax credits.

The Flats are on a corridor near the Downtown YMCA and Omaha Children’s Museum, just blocks from Creighton University, the Old Market and the downtown business district.

Students and young professionals want to live in the area, the Crooks said, but wince at the rents charged in the urban core. A smaller place allows them to live without a roommate, in a completely renovated unit. Many spend the majority of their time out and about but want downtown as their base.

“For some of the younger crowd, it’s a place to crash,” Dustin Crook said.

Stevey Clark, 28, said price and new furnishings sold her on the studio in the project’s Bartlett building, where she plans to move in a few weeks.

Giving up the space she’s had the past five years in a bigger Old Market apartment makes her anxious, she admits. But Clark figures she’ll save up to $500 a month by moving eight blocks west.

She wanted to remain in the urban environment of downtown, even though she works at ConAgra’s offices near 72nd Street and Interstate 680.

“I’m really nervous; I’ve never lived in something so small,” said Clark, an Iowa native. “But the minimalist is a new movement — we’ll see.”

For William Taylor of Jackson, Mississippi, who moved into the prairie-style Mayfair building in mid-August, the neighborhood is a five-minute drive to Creighton, where he is getting a master’s degree in pharmaceutical science.

Taylor, 24, said he originally inquired about NuStyle’s downtown Slate apartments, but they were full. He was referred to the Flats and liked the price range and location. For his one-bedroom, 642-square-foot unit, rent is $675, but he gets a discount until construction of the whole development is finished.

“It’s cool to see an entire neighborhood being built,” he said. “I love the exposed brick walls. It gives you that classic historic feel, yet it’s a very stylish apartment.”

Included in his rent price, he said, is free Wi-Fi, a washer and dryer and a discounted YMCA gym membership. He’ll soon have access to a pet-washing station and pet walk, community game room and outdoor courtyard.

Taylor researched the Flats project and was aware of its history as a mostly vacant corridor with drug-dealing and prostitution problems. He’s now privy to its transformation into a well-lit, landscaped campus that has an on-site leasing and property management office.

When completed in March, the neighborhood is to have commons areas and social events.

“I know what bad looks like,” said Taylor, noting that he’s lived in tough areas of New Orleans and elsewhere. “I feel very safe and comfortable here.”