Thor Cos. exploring new-to-market modular construction for its first multifamily development

Thor Living is planning a four-level apartment building at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Park Avenue in Minneapolis. The project might use modular construction.

Thor Cos. has built its name in the Twin Cities as a construction firm, but it’s branching off with a plan to develop its first multifamily apartment project in South Minneapolis that might use modular construction.

Thor Living, a new subsidiary of the Minneapolis firm, wants to build a four-level, 44-unit apartment building on a vacant lot at the northeast corner of the Franklin Avenue and Park Avenue intersection.

The building might be constructed in a factory — in 35 pieces — and trucked to the site, where it would be stacked into place by a crane. Pat Cruikshank, president of Thor Living, said the construction form is only being considered; the building could be constructed traditionally if the modular plan doesn’t work at the South Minneapolis site.

 

Pat Cruikshank, president of Thor Living

As far as Thor knows, the project could be the first modular multifamily construction in the Twin Cities and could be a game-changer in the local real estate industry.

Modular construction isn’t necessarily less expensive than traditional stick-built housing, but it takes 40 to 50 percent less time, said Cruikshank. In this case, a 12-month project could be shortened to six or seven months. That would lower the financing costs and get people into the building and paying rent faster.

Thor Living hopes to deliver what it called “attainable” housing. Rents would be somewhere in between market rates and the affordable housing that qualifies for tax credits. The Thor project is not seeking subsidies.

“Attainable housing is what we like to call the missing middle,” Cruikshank said. The Phillips neighborhood has a good deal of affordable housing, but we are trying to take a step up to help people that make a livable wage.” 

Thor architect Damaris Hollingsworth, vice president of Thor Design Plus, is designing a building that can be sliced into 35 pieces. Since the modules are shipped with countertops, cabinets, vanities and even toilets already installed, she has to be careful because the modules need be skinnier than 16 feet in order to be trucked on highways.

“You don’t want to have to the 16-foot line fall in the middle of a bathroom,” she said. “So I have to have some kind of a boundary or a wall.”

 

Damaris Hollingsworth, vice president of Thor Design Plus

Some of Thor’s owners also own a company called Smart Homes that is building single-family homes in North Minneapolis using modular construction. Dynamic Homes, a Detroit Lakes-based maker of system-built homes supplies the modules to Smart Homes. Cruikshank said Thor Living hasn’t decided on who would build the modules, but he hopes it’s Dynamic Homes.

Thor is already working on two other sites in South Minneapolis, one with 105 units and another with 60 units, Hollingsworth said.

“We are trying to figure out if this can be done, duplicated and replicated going forward in these infill sites in emerging communities,” Cruikshank said.

Thor’s plans will go before the Minneapolis Planning Commission on Thursday. If everything works out, the company hopes to break ground this summer.