Housing

Tallest Shipping Container Tower in North America Set to Open in Phoenix

If you’ve had a chance to drive by the northwest corner of Third and McKinley Streets recently, you might have noticed what is now the tallest development built from shipping containers in North America.
If you’ve had a chance to drive by the northwest corner of Third and McKinley Streets recently, you might have noticed what is now the tallest development built from shipping containers in North America. William LeGoullon

Oscar the Grouch isn’t the only one who loves living in a metal bin. Some Phoenix residents also have a taste for living in metal bins stacked on top of each other.

Eighteen Phoenix families are poised to move next week into IDA on McKinley, the tallest tower in North America made entirely out of shipping containers, according to developers.


The six-story, mixed-use new construction at McKinley and Third streets is a small step toward solving both the housing shortage and climate change crisis in Phoenix, according to the city.


Downtown Phoenix-based Local Studio, the self-styled preeminent shipping container project developer in America, embraced jokes about “dumpster projects,” and gave the Sesame Street star a nod in one of its germinal developments, theOSCAR at Portland and Second streets.


“We’ve delivered more container projects than anywhere in the country,” co-developer Kathleen Santin told Phoenix New Times. “We’re trying to continue the container story in Phoenix.”


It all started with Containers on Grand, an eight-unit residential undertaking delivered in 2015 in the city’s Triangle neighborhood.


Now the enterprising firm is scheduled to debut a first-of-its-kind development in the Roosevelt neighborhood next week.


The Ida on McKinley project broke ground in January 2021 on a tumbledown former parking lot with only enough room for 22 cars. Architects repurposed that asphalt lot as the bedrock for the multi-family housing venture.


Local Studio is “changing hearts and minds one block at a time,” says Santin.


For the past 16 months, lofty cranes have dangled over the miniature parcel next to Cobra Arcade Bar, dropping cargo containers into place like Tetris blocks.


“We’re using every square inch of it,” Santin said.

click to enlarge The IDA on McKinley, Phoenix-based Local Studio's fifth sustainable housing venture, is scheduled to open next week. - WILLIAM LEGOULLON
The IDA on McKinley, Phoenix-based Local Studio's fifth sustainable housing venture, is scheduled to open next week.
William LeGoullon

Tenants have claimed each of the building’s 18 units pre-ribbon cutting, with more waiting in line to get in. The 2,400-square-foot ground floor can accommodate two businesses.

One- and two-bedroom units are each between 650 and 900 square feet and are for rent only. A one-bedroom unit will rent for $1,685 a month and a two-bedroom space for $1,950. Developers are mulling mortgaging out units to residents in the future.

Ida on McKinley, the fifth shipping container venture for Local Studio in metro Phoenix, used 66 recycled shipping containers totaling 615,000 pounds of repurposed steel. Each container, salvaged from shipping yards in Long Beach, California, is 40 feet long.


“It’s amazing to see how much would have gone into a landfill,” Santin said. “Imagine how much waste a high-rise project generates.”


In 2018, the United States generated a whopping 455 million tons of construction waste and sent 145 million tons of it to landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Local Studio endeavors to curb this number with its Phoenix developments.

"We're changing hearts and minds one block at a time." — Kathleen Santin

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“Phoenix faces extreme climate challenges and will be hit harder and sooner than other cities in the United States,” Local Studio founder and head architect Brian Stark told New Times. “Phoenix is also a heavy development city with very few developers taking actions to change the way development is being done.”


Shipping container structures are nothing new in Phoenix.


The shipping container gallery curated by Xico Arte y Cultura in Roosevelt Row has migrated around the neighborhood since 2014. That's when the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation received a $90,000 ArtPlace grant for the purpose of developing live/work spaces for artists using repurposed shipping containers.

In 2018, the Churchill, a 9,000-square-foot artisanal tiny mall, opened in the Roosevelt district. It also was developed by Local Studio.

In March, New Times reported that Mesa-based homebuilder Luke Crosthwaite was building 26 shipping container homes on a sandy plot in South Phoenix. The undertaking was, in part, a response to Arizona residents looking for alternatives to a crushing housing market for both home purchases and rentals alike. The HGTV show Container Homes first popularized these “tiny homes” in 2016.


But IDA on McKinley is different, not only because of its lofty height.


“We decided to take a leap that nobody takes in downtown Phoenix,” Santin said.

click to enlarge A unique solar overhang spans the length of the six-story building and cloaks the sidewalk below in shade. - WILLIAM LEGOULLON
A unique solar overhang spans the length of the six-story building and cloaks the sidewalk below in shade.
William LeGoullon


The sustainability focused developer is enveloping the rooftop party deck with solar panels that will reduce the utility bill for the people in the building.


The building also features communal outdoor showers for those who bike to work, an electric bike charging station, refillable water stations, and a 3,000-gallon rainwater collection tank.


“The containers exist already,” Stark said. “Using them as a building material dramatically reduces our carbon footprint.”


On that note, if you’re moving into IDA on McKinley, leave your car behind. There is no parking at 250 East McKinley Street.


The project followed in the footsteps of others like Culdesac Tempe, the first car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the area nestled in the heart of the East Valley.


Like Culdesac, IDA is positioned with easy access to the 28-mile Valley Metro Rail that connects Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa.


Residents will bike or walk to work and take the train, or hitch a lift with a ride-share or taxi service, to access the rest of greater Phoenix. In a city with three parking spaces for every resident, “It’s unconscionable that more people don’t believe in public transportation,” Santin said.


It’s a new trail blazed unexpectedly out of what’s been dubbed by The New York Times as “the most auto-addicted city in America.”


“This is going to end up being a model for all future developments all over 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 on McKinley is a private project,” sustainability department spokesperson Spencer Blake said.


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,” Santin said. “We’re not shouting or marching. We’re demonstrating.”

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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss