What's a "retreat" or a "getaway"
Instead of heading to the lake, try an 'urban cabin' getaway
Mike and Mickey Webb, like many Twin Citians, own their primary home in the western suburbs and a second home as their retreat. But instead of heading north on the weekends, the Webbs head east to their "urban cabin" in Lowertown.
"We'd rather drive to St. Paul than drive four hours to rake leaves," Mike Webb said.
Minnesota Wild season ticketholders and lovers of St. Paul's downtown atmosphere, the two found themselves frequenting the city nearly every weekend. But with Mike as the mayor of Carver and owner of a Dunn Brothers in Chaska and Mickey working as an executive with Associated Financial Group -- a position that involves frequent travel to Wisconsin -- it wasn't possible for the couple to move to St. Paul.
"The straw that broke the camel's back is that we had a Wild game and my wife had to travel the next morning," Mike said. "We actually left the Wild game early so that we could get all the way back to Carver and my wife could pack. And she had to get up an hour and a half early to get through Minneapolis and St. Paul to get to Wisconsin. We finally just said after a Wild game, 'Let's stay in St. Paul, pack and be ready to go and you can just leave from St. Paul to Wisconsin.' "
The Webbs decided it was time to invest in a condomium in the city. After a search for a place in Lowertown that was connected to the skyway -- important for getting to those winter Wild games -- the couple settled in May on a 1,000-square-foot loft condo in Union Depot.
Forget the knotty pine and deer antlers, the Webbs' urban cabin is decorated in yellow and gray tones, and filled with modern furniture and local artwork. The decor is different, but the intent of the space is the same: to get away, relax and escape from everyday life. Mike Webb grew up in Duluth where "everyone had a cabin," and Mickey's parents had a cabin for years.
The Webbs had considered buying a cabin in the past but weren't thrilled by all the work involved in the upkeep of a northern home.
"We had talked about getting a cabin early on, but it really boiled down to when you go up, it's all work," Mike said. "You have to put a dock in, you have to put the boat in, you have to take it out, you have to clean it. And if you're gone or not up there for three or four weeks, you won't know what could happen."
"When you buy a condo there's no maintenance," Mickey said. "You can just come and enjoy and relax."
0.3 PERCENT OF TWIN CITIES MARKET
While it's easier to measure the number of statewide cabins, little research exists on how many of these properties are urban cabins like the Webbs'.
"There are about 125,000 seasonal recreational property owners in Minnesota -- some of these are cabins, some may be hunting shacks," said Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates.
There are around 4,500 seasonal units in the metro area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2013 Housing Profile of Minneapolis and St. Paul, making up about 0.3 percent of the market. These units could be anything from a summer home for residents who live someplace warmer in the colder months to couples like the Webbs who spend weekends in the city for cultural reasons.
Downtown Resource Group of Minneapolis said buyers have been looking for a weekend or seasonal home in downtown Minneapolis the past few years.
"I'd say it's probably only 10 percent of our business, the urban cabin," Colton Maher of Downtown Resource Group said.
Include the seasonal dwellers who stay in the summer but move to Florida in the winter, and it increases to about 50 percent of their business, Maher said.
In St. Paul, downtown condo realtor Bud Kleppe of St. Paul Home Realty is seeing a similar trend of buyers looking for a weekend home in the city.
"There are definitely people that bought downtown specifically for that reason," Kleppe said. "They have a crash pad downtown and are able to play in the city and not have to drive an hour to get home."
But those looking for an urban cabin are looking to buy, not rent, and while buyers are out there, condos aren't as numerous as apartments. Ever since the market peaked in 2008 and 2009, condo sales have slumped and no new condo developments have taken place in the past few years. Downtown St. Paul apartment complexes are booming -- like the former St. Paul post office that will have 202 luxury apartments and 150 hotel rooms and the Pioneer Press' downtown headquarters, which will be transformed into more than 150 apartments. Kleppe explained much of that is due to costs: Loans for apartment buildings are easier to secure because they are considered less risky to banks than developing condos.
Although there are no new condo buildings in the works in downtown St. Paul, realtors are hopeful.
"The market seems like it's starting to come back," Kleppe said. "It seems like there's been a small uptick in the amount of people who are actually listing their homes."
St. Paul Home Realty, which specializes in downtown St. Paul condos, has recently found an increase of resales. From January to September this year, there have been 149 condo resales in downtown St. Paul, up from 113 resales in 2014 and 88 in 2011 -- near the bottom of the market -- according to Maxfield Research & Consulting, LLC and Minneapolis Association of Realtors.
As of today, there are 55 confirmed and 17 pending condos currently listed in downtown St. Paul. While that number seems small, to Kleppe, this year's increase of resales means the market is reaching a more "normalized" and healthy location.
"We're on the upswing, but we're not close to that high mark where we were in 2009," Kleppe said. "It's not stagnant. It's not going backwards. You can see that the pricing is going the right way."
Although the market is tight, the draw of purchasing an urban cabin condo is still around and those spending weekends in the city are reaping the benefits of being in the middle of the action. Along with the Wild games, the Webbs plan to attend concerts at the Ordway, concerts at Mears Park, St. Paul Saints games and sample the food choices in Lowertown.
"The best aspect of it is we can be in the complete hubbub of what's going on, but when we come back to our space, it is quiet and we can have some alone time," Mickey said. "We have struck the balance of having both of those things."