Proposal Would Repurpose Shipping Containers for Affordable Micro Apartments

The proposed 30th & Summit apartment development features four, three-story buildings using stacked shipping containers. (Rendering by Rosemann Architects)

(Editor’s note: The City Council approved the plan at its July 23 meeting)

By Kevin Collison

Kansas City developer Paul Nagaoka has traveled the world pursuing his vision of building affordable apartment projects with big steel shipping containers to create cozy residences.

“This is my greatest passion, this is the whole focus of what I see happening for the foreseeable future,” he said.

This week, Nagaoka got a strong endorsement from the City Council Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee to pursue his idea.

His plan to develop a unique, 48-unit micro apartment complex at 30th and Summit using shipping containers won unanimous support from the committee despite neighborhood objections.

The 30th & Summit Apartments project calls for four, three-story buildings built using stacked metal shipping containers, the kind used to move goods via rail, truck and ship across the world.

Intermodal shipping containers have transformed global commerce, but when their service life is over, often discarded in the ocean.

Each container would be converted to become a 320 square-foot studio apartment. The estimated rents will be $675- to $775 per month.

City planners believe his shipping container approach to multi-family residential development is a first in Kansas City.

MAC Properties built an apartment development at Main and Armour using modular units fabricated in Nebraska, but those were manufactured specifically as residential components.

Nagaoka said he traveled around the world observing how shipping containers are used for residential construction and determined it could be done attractively and in a super-efficient manner.

“They are cool rectangular shapes that you can do with a mid-century modern aesthetically,” he said. “Every square inch is carefully thought through.”

Paul Rosemann of Rosemann Architects, the designer of the project, said the containers will be repurposed by opening one end for access and floor-to-ceiling windows, and then fitted out for tenant living.

“One thing we’re excited about is that people are just dumping these in the ocean when they’re finished,” he said. “This is super sustainable.”

The project would be located southeast of 29th and Madison. (Map from City Planning Department filing)

Nagaoka said each studio will include a folding Murphy-style bed, in-unit laundry, container storage and enough room for six people to have dinner together.

The plan includes a 50-space parking lot, according to documents filed with the City Planning Department.

The development was opposed at the Council Committee meeting by neighborhood groups including the Westside, Coleman Highlands and Sacred Heart.

Neighbors said they preferred the area be developed as single-family housing and were concerned about potential traffic issues.

But Council members said they were intrigued with the plan to repurpose shipping containers for residential use, and also emphasized it would provide much-needed affordable housing.

“I’m interested in the low-cost design,” said Councilman Lee Barnes Jr., chairman of the Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee.

“If we’re looking for ways to develop low-cost housing, this is a way to do it.”

The developer said access to the project would be off West 30th Street via an alley-type roadway.

Mac Properties built its 3435 Main apartments with modules manufactured in Nebraska.

“The intent of the applicant is to provide an affordable housing product with unique architecture,” planners reported.

Barnes acknowledged the neighborhood objections, but was skeptical single-family housing was a development option.

“If we look at the neighborhoods today, I don’t know how much single-family development will occur in that area,” he said.

The committee supported the plan unanimously. It will now go to the full Council for final consideration next week.

Nagaoka wants to begin construction as soon as possible if the Council okays the project.

He hopes to build more shipping container-based affordable apartments in the city, saying his firm, Syndicate Real Estate Development, has the financial backing to expand the concept.

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  1. “Neighbors said they preferred the area be developed as single-family housing and were concerned about potential traffic issues.”

    I’m not sure i understand their argument. There’s already a multi-family unit literally next door to the property and the design plan looks like it would have direct access to Summit/SW Trafficway.

    Either way, I agree with Barnes that we are past the point of single-family home construction; at least so close to downtown. I really hope this project goes well and becomes a repeatable means of making headway on the affordable housing issue.

  2. Coleman Highlands residents of single-family homes need to realize that the vast majority of Kansas Citians cannot afford to live the way they are living, unfortunately. I live in nearby Volker and realize I’m one of the lucky ones to be in my situation: Retired with no mortgage. But times have changed drastically and there needs to be a lot more affordable housing.

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