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As Tampa Bay gets more expensive, micro apartments with robotic furniture are coming

A new complex set to begin construction in Hyde Park uses technology to make the most out of “micro” apartments.
An animation of the "Studio Suite Slim" technology by Ori, which transforms a unit from a living room to a bedroom with a closet.
An animation of the "Studio Suite Slim" technology by Ori, which transforms a unit from a living room to a bedroom with a closet. [ Courtesy of Ori ]
Published Sep. 15
Updated Sep. 15

As rent prices climb across Tampa Bay, some developers are looking for ways to make the most out of each square foot.

That’s why the company behind NICHE, a new six-story apartment complex in Tampa’s North Hyde Park, will offer 83 “micro” units, using “robotic furniture” to maximize the limited space, Wingspan Development Group said in a statement. The complex will open in 2023.

Tampa was attractive because of the quality of life and continued population growth, Wingspan’s director of development Jason Macklin told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview. The Chicago-based developer wanted to offer more affordable apartment options on the outskirts of the downtown area.

Related: Is it better to buy or rent in Tampa Bay? Both come with hurdles

Micro units are considered space less than 400 square feet, Macklin said. To make the most of the limited space, Wingspan is using “space multiplication” systems, like Ori technology.

Think high-tech Murphy beds.

Ori, short for origami, was launched in 2015 and focuses on transforming living spaces backed by research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The company’s motto is to “live large in a smaller footprint” and has grown to 25 cities. The NICHE complex is Ori’s first project in the Tampa Bay area where the units will be equipped with an expanding wall activated by a touch on a phone screen or by voice through Amazon Alexa. It can convert the living room area of the studio into an office space, bedroom or a walk-in closet.

An animation of the "Studio Suite Slim" technology by Ori, which transforms a unit from a living room to a bedroom with a closet.
An animation of the "Studio Suite Slim" technology by Ori, which transforms a unit from a living room to a bedroom with a closet. [ Courtesy of Ori ]

“We’ve see a lot of cities like [Tampa] starting to have much more success. But of course, with success, you also get the challenges of more demand and prices per square foot going up,” said Hasier Larrea, the CEO of Ori.

Renters find smaller units appealing because they’re more affordable, but they don’t want to be stuck living in a “tiny shoe box,” Larrea said. Sales tripled for Ori during the pandemic as people were forced to stay home and had to retrofit their living space into work space.

“Rents are starting to get to a point where they’re above $3 per square foot in downtown Tampa, which is expensive,” Macklin explained.

The complex at 1116 W. Carmen St will price units at a similar market rate of $3.20 per square foot, Macklin said, but will start at under $1,000 per month. NICHE will also offer 168 units ranging from studios to three-bedrooms.

“There’s just there’s so much demand for housing in in the Tampa market right now,” Macklin said. “As a developer, you need a diverse unit mix to offer to the general population and give them a choice.”

A rendering of NICHE, an apartment complex coming to Tampa's Hyde Park. It will have 83 micro units with robotic furniture as developers look to maximize space in an increasingly more expensive neighborhood.
A rendering of NICHE, an apartment complex coming to Tampa's Hyde Park. It will have 83 micro units with robotic furniture as developers look to maximize space in an increasingly more expensive neighborhood. [ Courtesy of Wingspan Development Group ]

Amenities in the NICHE will include co-working spaces and community kitchens which can be rented or available on a first-come, first-served basis. It will also have a roof deck with a pool, cabanas, fire pits and a downtown view. There’s an indoor and outdoor gym, a golf simulator and yoga studio.

The complex is next to the University of Tampa, which has grown to have 10,500 students in 2021. While it isn’t a student housing project, the developer said, they expect some of the residents will be students.

Micro units are becoming popular with younger generations, said Tampa architect Mickey Jacob of Goodwyn Mills Cawood, especially among millennials and Generation Z who want the luxuries of urban life.

The Metro, an all-studio complex in the Edge District, is under construction in St. Petersburg. DevMar Development officials said they chose to offer smaller units after seeing demand for them at another project they managed a few blocks away.

“What we’re seeing in smaller units is that those buildings provide amenities that are shared and create social collisions that you normally wouldn’t have in your life if you put those amenities within the unit itself,” Jacob said.

A rendering of NICHE, an apartment complex coming to Tampa's Hyde Park. It will have 83 micro units with robotic furniture as developers look to maximize space in an increasingly more expensive neighborhood.
A rendering of NICHE, an apartment complex coming to Tampa's Hyde Park. It will have 83 micro units with robotic furniture as developers look to maximize space in an increasingly more expensive neighborhood. [ Courtesy of Wingspan Development Group ]

More and more developers with studio projects are planning for co-working spaces within the building, Jacob said. Especially as the pandemic pushed many people to work remotely.

Related: The best places to ride a bike in the Tampa Bay area

NICHE will be less than a half-mile of downtown Tampa and two miles from the West Shore Business District. It’s also a block away from a new protected bike path called the Green Spine.

Wingspan Development is also working on Jade Apartments, a five-story complex at 608 N. Willow Ave. and will house 3,200 square feet of retail space and 192 luxury apartments.