Doran corners luxury market with bulldozers

Kelly Doran just opened 412 Lofts. His next project: Stadium Village.
Workers of Doran Company clear a hole Wednesday morning for the underground parking ramp of the new student housing that will be built off of Oak Street. Foreman Tom Etters said one of the main concerns was to keep the neighboring business Tofu House intact.
October 13, 2011

Kelly Doran fell into real estate more than 25 years ago. Now, the 53-year-old developer has become a key name in luxury housing for University of Minnesota students.

In the past two years, Doran built two complexes on campus. His firm’s third complex in Stadium Village started laying foundation this week, and negotiations are underway for a fourth property on University Avenue.

Moving from Dinkytown to Stadium Village for his new project, The Edge on Oak, Doran hopes to attract those who want a different kind of student housing.

“Some students want to live in a house with 10 other kids. Some want to live in a nice apartment. We’re supplying them with more options,” he said.

Doran’s projects offer “luxury” amenities, including underground parking and exercise rooms, as well as heightened security. He said his properties offer a new alternative for an area that has demanded higher quality housing for more than 20 years.

But the rent doesn’t come cheap.

Two-bedroom units in the new project will rent for nearly $2,000 a month — a price tag some say is “outrageous.”

Some students believe quality shouldn’t come with a hefty price.

“These apartment buildings are taking advantage of the students who have money and disadvantaging those who don’t,” University senior Alexandra Katopodis said.

Katopodis, who rents in a building on the corner of Fourth Street Southeast and 12th Avenue Southeast, said the newer complexes are forcing students out of the neighborhoods.

“If you can’t afford the rent around here, then you’re living on Como or even farther,” she said. “The ‘U’ is Dinkytown. Everyone should have the chance to live around [the area].”

But Doran’s apartments aren’t the first luxury housing units to line the streets close to campus.

Developers like the Opus Group,whose Stadium Village Flats broke ground in May, are also filling the increased demand in the area.

That demand has prompted area landlords to renovate existing housing around the University, primarily in the Marcy Holmes, Southeast Como and Stadium Village neighborhoods.

Tim Harmsen, owner of Dinkytown Rentals, said there has been a pent-up demand for quality housing in the area for decades.

“If we improve the neighborhoods, we improve the campus,” he said.

More affordable student housing complexes like Dinnaken Properties have survived despite the flux of new developments in the renter-dominated neighborhood. Property manager Yvonne Grosulak said there will always be a need for affordable housing.

Jim LaValle, Doran Companies’ vice president of development, said the firm is “always trying to make [apartments] more affordable.”

But students living in Doran’s complexes said the apartments are well worth the rent. In an informal survey given by the Minnesota Daily to about 15 student residents of the 412 Lofts — one of Doran’s properties — all students said the luxury aspect was one of the reasons they moved in.

Out of more than 200 units available in Doran’s properties on campus, only one apartment remains unoccupied.

Location, location, location

After receiving his MBA from the University in 1983, Doran spent more than eight years as a commercial banker. But by the early 1990s, he discovered opportunities in real estate. Doran became president of the Robert Muir Company, a Minneapolis firm that develops and constructs commercial retail properties.

Doran left the firm in 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for governor. He launched Doran Companies the next year.

“We haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Currently, Doran owns several residential properties around Minneapolis, and dozens of commercial and retail properties around the state.

With construction on a third campus apartment complex underway, Doran is in negotiations to purchase University Lutheran Chapel on University Avenue.

In 2009, Doran’s $36 million renovation of the century-old Dinkydome caused a rift between some local business owners and developers.

Some businesses housed in the Dinkydome were “driven out” during construction, Dinkytown Business Association President Skott Johnson said.

“Dinkytown is turning into a place that looks the same as any other corner of any other city,” Johnson said.

Doran’s new project replaces the iconic Oak Street Cinema and Golden Bowl restaurant in Stadium Village at 309 Oak St. Southeast. Both were torn down Sept. 30.

The cinema building did not meet historic designation standards, but could be considered a “historic resource,” city planner John Smoley said. The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission approved the building’s demolition in March.

Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the area, called the theater’s demolition a “real shame.”

But Doran said his project is simply meeting a demand. He said location is key to planning developments.

“We wouldn’t build on [sites] that are 10 blocks away from campus,” he said, pointing out that most students dislike a long commute.

“Students have grown up differently in this generation than in the past. They’re used to living in their own bedrooms, having more resources,” he said. 

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