Developer floating $5M in townhouses made from 32 shipping containers

Plans for Containers on College call for eight townhouse units constructed with 32 shipping containers. (Rendering courtesy of Custom Container Builders)

A local developer plans to build an eight-unit townhouse project using 32 shipping containers on vacant property on the near-north side of Indianapolis.

Custom Container Builders plans to spend about $5 million to develop the three-story project on a 0.38-acre site at 1925 N. College Ave.

The firm—which constructed the city’s first container-based home on Bellefontaine Street in 2020—expects the units to each have about 1,975 square feet of living space, each with a two-car garage on the first floor. The bedroom and bathroom counts for the units have not yet been finalized, although the homes are all expected to have similar designs.

Each home is expected to feature a rooftop deck area, and all garages will be accessed from the rear of the homes, off of an alley running between College and Carrollton avenues. Four units will face west toward College, with the other four facing east toward the alley.

Michael Lewis, a principal with Custom Container Builders, said he hopes the project helps change perceptions among those who scoff at the idea of living in a home constructed from the containers. He said he expects the market is likely to skew younger for the project—called Containers on College—but is hopeful others will consider the homes.

“My goal is to change people’s opinions. When people hear about shipping container projects, most say they can’t imagine living in one,” he said. “But we can create homes that look like any standard home because, really, most homes are boxes.” 

As part of the project, Custom Container is seeking approval to rezone the property, which it acquired in January for about $300,000, to the D-8, dwelling, designation from C-1, commercial. The request was approved by the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission hearing examiner last week, with the full commission expected to weigh the request in the coming weeks.

Lewis said the exact development cost hasn’t been finalized, but said it would be “roughly” $5 million, including land costs.

The homes will be in the Kennedy King neighborhood, which has seen a spate of new housing in the past few years. The homes are also within a five-minute walk of West Fork Whiskey, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the Monon Trail.

And because of the proximity to downtown Indianapolis—Lewis pointed in particular to the Bottleworks project—it’s likely the homes will fetch a sum that is well above market.  But Lewis said asking prices haven’t yet been determined.

The homes are expected to be completed by mid-2022, since construction is far less reliant on weather conditions than are typical homes.

“We’ve really tried to focus in on understanding the best way to put things together. There’s a lot of value engineering to these, so we can get these down to a reasonable [build] time that’s actually a lot faster than a traditional home,” Lewis said. “And because they’re wind-and water-tight, inclement weather is not as big of an issue.”

Custom Container markets its custom-builds across the United States, and has several projects in early stages of development, he said.

The firm is designing the project internally, with Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc. handling some engineering aspects of the development.

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11 thoughts on “Developer floating $5M in townhouses made from 32 shipping containers

  1. Any use of the land is better than no use, but what is the lifespan of shipping container-based housing? I could see it being much shorter than traditional housing or much longer than traditional housing.

    1. The container shells are typically not left exposed — most serve as the structure and are clad on exterior and interior with new materials, insulation, etc. especially for use as a residential use.

    2. There is a restaurant Santolla in Puerto Natales Chile made out of containers. Very cool and great food. Kind of harsh down there and holding up fine

  2. Development cost 5 million. 8 units would mean an average sales price of $625.000 each. At 1975 sq. ft per unit it would be a little over $316.00 per square foot. Good luck.

    1. The $625k would be the cost. Wouldn’t the sale price be a bit higher than that to make a profit? Seems odd to expect a premium for a ‘container’ townhouse versus a custom built townhouse.

  3. I just read that a shipping container shortage is driving transportation costs and supply shortages. Cool project, but I’m surprised these are still being used for building materials as if there are surplus shipping containers.

  4. The thing they built on Bellafontaine is not pretty. It looks just like a stack of shipping containers.

    I am pleased that this looks a little more traditional, and that the garages are accessed from the alley avoiding the suburban garage look.

  5. A great alternative to traditional building materials and it seems to cut cost and build time.This is definitely a trend we see in other major cities and I feel Indy should keep up with GOOD TRENDS and not get left behind as Indy has so many times in the past.Indy has a habit of waiting until things has become old news elsewhere before we finally jump on cool things.people love cool hip trendy things, especially the young college generation that lives around broad ripple and college ave.excellent move on this companies part.They clearly done their homework on the city in picking a location

  6. Very fun vibe and have seen some very cool container projects. Haven’t heard about a container shortage, just a shortage of truck drivers! Cost is “interesting”? I thought container builds were more Cost effective? They seem to be more labor intensive having to create interior shells? But using a cutting torch is a bucket list thing for some reason, might volunteer some time?!

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