Oscar the Grouch isn’t the only one who loves living in a metal box. Some Phoenix residents also have a penchant for living in metal bins stacked on top of each other.
Eighteen Phoenix families are about to move into IDA next week on McKinley, the tallest tower in North America made entirely of shipping containers, developers said.
The six-story mixed-use new construction on McKinley and Third Street is a small step toward solving both the housing shortage and climate change crisis in Phoenix, the city says.
Downtown Phoenix-based Local Studio, America’s self-proclaimed premier shipping container developer, embraced jokes about “waste container projects” and gave the Sesame Street star a wink in one of its germinal developments, the OSCAR in Portland and Second Street.
“We have delivered more container projects than anywhere else in the country,” said co-developer Kathleen Santin . Phoenix New Times† “We’re trying to continue the container story in Phoenix.”
It all started with Containers on Grand, an eight-unit residential venture that was completed in 2015 in the city’s Triangle neighborhood.
Now, the enterprising company is set to launch a premium development in the Roosevelt neighborhood next week.
The Ida on McKinley project broke ground in January 2021 on a derelict former parking lot with only enough space for 22 cars. Architects have reused that asphalt site as the foundation for the multi-family home.
Local Studio “changes hearts and minds block by block,” says Santin.
For the past 16 months, tall cranes have dangled above the miniature package next to Cobra Arcade Bar, letting freight containers fall into place like Tetris blocks.
“We use every square inch of it,” Santin said.
Tenants have claimed each of the building’s 18 units for ribbon cutting, with more waiting in line to get in. The 2,400 square meter ground floor accommodates two companies.
One and two bedroom units are between 650 and 900 square feet each and are available for rent only. A one-bedroom unit rents for $1,685 per month and a two-bedroom unit for $1,950. Developers are considering pawning units to residents in the future.
Ida on McKinley, the fifth shipping container company for Local Studio in metro Phoenix, used 66 recycled shipping containers for a total of 615,000 pounds of recycled steel. Each container, salvaged from shipyards in Long Beach, California, is 40 feet long.
“It’s amazing how much would have ended up in a landfill,” Santin said. “Imagine how much waste a high-rise project generates.”
In 2018, the United States produced a staggering 455 million tons of construction waste and sent 145 million tons of it to landfills, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Local Studio is trying to curb this number with its Phoenix developments.
“We are changing hearts and minds block by block.” — Kathleen Santin
“Phoenix faces extreme climate challenges and will be hit harder and faster than other cities in the United States,” said Local Studio founder and lead architect Brian Stark. New times† “Phoenix is also a heavy development city with very few developers taking actions to change the way development is done.”
Shipping container structures is nothing new in Phoenix.
Curated by Xico Arte y Cultura in Roosevelt Row, the shipping container gallery has been migrating through the neighborhood since 2014. Then the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation received a $90,000 ArtPlace grant to develop living/working spaces for artists using recycled shipping containers.
In 2018, the Churchill, a 9,000-square-foot artisanal small shopping center, opened in the Roosevelt neighborhood. It is also developed by Local Studio.
In March, New times reported that Mesa-based homebuilder Luke Crosthwaite was building 26 shipping container homes on sandy soil in South Phoenix. The move was, in part, a response to Arizona residents seeking alternatives to a smashing housing market for both home purchases and rents. The HGTV show Container homes first made these ‘little houses’ popular in 2016.
But IDA on McKinley is different, not just because of his high height.
“We’ve decided to take a leap that no one in downtown Phoenix is taking,” said Santin.
The sustainability-focused developer is encasing the rooftop party terrace with solar panels that will reduce energy bills for the people in the building.
The building also features outdoor communal showers for those cycling to work, an electric bicycle charging station, refillable water stations, and a 3,000-gallon rainwater harvester.
“The containers already exist,” Stark said. “Using them as building materials drastically reduces our carbon footprint.”
For that matter, if you’re moving to IDA on McKinley, leave your car behind. There is no parking at 250 East McKinley Street.
The project followed in the footsteps of others, such as Culdesac Tempe, the first pedestrianized neighborhood to be built from scratch in the area nestled in the heart of the East Valley.
Like Culdesac, IDA is positioned with easy access to the 45-mile Valley Metro Rail that connects Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa.
Residents will cycle or walk to work and take the train, or take a ride with a carpool or taxi service, to access the rest of greater Phoenix. In a city with three parking spaces for each resident, “it’s unreasonable that more people don’t believe in public transportation,” Santin said.
It is a new path unexpectedly blazed by what has been mentioned by The New York Times as “the most car-addicted city in America.”
“This will eventually become a model for all future developments across the country,” said Nicole Pasteur, a spokesperson for Local Studio. “We’re proving it’s replicable.”
City officials declined interview requests from New times because “the IDA at McKinley is a private project,” said Spencer Blake, spokesperson for the sustainability department.
In planning and development documents filed this month, the city called the fledgling development “environmentally friendly” and “the first of its kind to open in Phoenix.”
Local Studio hopes builders across the country will follow suit.
“We try to lead by example,” said Santin. “We’re not yelling or marching. We are demonstrating.”