Bob Shallit

The Mill at Broadway targets millennials as home buyers

Bardis Homes owners Katherine Bardis, left, and Rachel Bardis at the site of their new development in Sacramento on Tuesday. The two are breaking ground on a new housing complex in Land Park called The Mill at Broadway aimed at millenial buyers.
Bardis Homes owners Katherine Bardis, left, and Rachel Bardis at the site of their new development in Sacramento on Tuesday. The two are breaking ground on a new housing complex in Land Park called The Mill at Broadway aimed at millenial buyers. rbenton@sacbee.com

Home construction has begun at The Mill at Broadway, an innovative urban infill project in Sacramento that’s as notable for its youthful vibe as its grand scope.

The community, just to the south of Broadway between Third and Fifth streets, eventually will have 1,000 residences, a park, a public market and a walking and biking trail – on 32 acres of formerly industrial property.

Now it’s mostly dirt and sidewalks. But Bardis Homes last week started trenching and laying water/sewer lines for its first 10 model housing units – a mix of single-family detached townhomes and duplex-style residences, connected either side by side or one atop another.

Those 10 model homes – part of the project’s initial 282 residences – should be finished by August, when a grand opening is scheduled. The prices: from just under $200,000 for the smallest duplex-style unit to about $400,000 for the largest townhomes.

Work also is underway to convert an aging truck-loading dock on Fifth Street into what initially will be a sales office and later the site of a public market with coffee shops and other retail operations.

The goal: to create a hip, vibrant, energy-efficient community that also reflects the property’s historic role as a wood processing site, Setzer Forest Products Inc. Developers plan to keep some reminders of the Setzer operation – including a 35-foot-high cylindrical sawdust burner – as a community icon.

“We’re not building from scratch but from the rich history that’s here. We’re not just creating another cookie-cutter suburban community,” said Kevin Smith, project manager with San Diego-based developer Ranch Capital LLC.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. When was the last time a major subdivision was built so close to Sacramento’s central city?

But perhaps the Mill at Broadway’s most intriguing element is its aim to sell homes primarily to young buyers from the “millennial” generation, those born starting in the early 1980s and a group generally considered averse to taking on mortgages.

The pitch is subtle. A video on the project’s website – millatbroadway.com – shows attractive young people jogging, hiking, biking and engaged in creative pursuits, while extolling the virtues of living for the moment and downplaying material success.

“Beauty, risk, love and passion,” the narrator says at one point. “These are what we stay alive for.”

The video doesn’t once mention the words home buying.

The idea is to show that the project’s backers understand the millennial lifestyle, said the video’s creator and narrator, 28-year-old Russell Breton of Vision Launchers, the Sacramento firm in charge of branding the Mill at Broadway project.

Other marketing efforts will be more direct. The message: You can own a home as cheaply as renting; you can build up equity; and without any yards or a pool to maintain, you can drop everything at a moment’s notice to travel and have adventures. As Breton put it, “buying a house doesn’t mean you’re selling your soul.”

Smith, the project manager, said his firm researched demographic trends after being brought on by the Setzer family, the property’s longtime owner. The conclusion: Millennials had to be the project’s primary customers, along with downsizing empty-nesters.

Initially, Smith was approached by home builders who wanted to put in large, single-family lots on the 32-acre property. “We saw that as responding to the market of the past instead of the market of the future,” he said.

He opted instead to take a chance on Bardis Homes, a new venture formed by cousins Rachel Bardis and Katherine Bardis, whose fathers have been involved in the Reynen & Bardis home-building company.

Rachel, 39, ran a home-building company more than a decade ago. Katherine, a 27-year-old recent grad of University of Pacific’s McGeorge law school, worked with her cousin on a five-home project in the Pocket area in south Sacramento. They’ll build the first 282 homes at the Mill.

“They got what we were talking about,” Smith said.

The cousins introduced Smith to the Vision Launchers team. Also working on the project: Artists Sofia Lacin✔ and Hennessy Christophel, who are painting murals at the project’s future entrance near Broadway and Third. Both are millennials.

More 20- and 30-somethings will be brought in this summer when eight interior designers are asked to put their personal spin on the model homes.

Normally model homes all have a similar look, aimed at mass appeal. Not these.

“It’s a big risk to bring in various designers and say, ‘Show us what you would do here,’” Rachel Bardis said. “But we don’t want sameness. We don’t want mundaneness.”

Her cousin said the project itself will be anything but mundane.

“I do everything by feeling, and this just feels right,” Katherine said. “You’re close to the city and you can wake up, roll out of bed and go get your coffee and a sandwich. It’s a feeling of living within a city but also having a community.”

Call The Bee’s Bob Shallit, (916) 321-1017.

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