NS: Developers Scurry

From Thursday’s News-Sentinel, written by Kevin Leininger:

Developer scurries to sell condos

Bob Jehl looked down from the 26th floor of the National City Bank Building at the new ballpark quickly taking shape a few blocks away. Jehl’s not a big baseball fan, but the 45-year-old electrical engineer envisions the day he and the Wizards are neighbors.

“But the prices are a little high, and I’d have to sell my house first,” he said.

Developers of Harrison Square’s 62 proposed condominiums wined and dined Jehl and other prospective buyers at the Summit Club on Wednesday afternoon, hoping to jump-start sluggish sales that have threatened to put the project behind schedule. But no matter what Jehl ultimately decides, executives from Atlanta-based Barry Real Estate Companies say they intend to sell half the units by mid-July, break ground by mid-August and be at least very close to completion by next June – the deadline set in its contract with the city.

Barry CEO Chris Schoen knows he can’t do much to help Jehl and other would-be customers sell their homes in a weak market – which many would have to do before spending between $140,000 and $340,000 on a luxury downtown condo. But Schoen said his company can do other things to spur sales – “and I’ll stay here all night to sign contracts if necessary.”

Schoen said Barry will take several steps to convert interest into sales by addressing concerns similar to those voiced by Jehl. Marketing efforts have been retooled, buyers will receive free Summit Club memberships, and sale prices may be open to negotiation.

That will come as good news to Jehl, who said he began to consider ownership after learning of the project’s sales challenges. He’s considering a two-bedroom condo listed at about $300,000.

“I’m single, I like Fort Wayne, work a mile and a half away and really want this to work,” said Jehl, whose late father Tom had contributed to the construction of Memorial Stadium – which is scheduled to be torn down once the new stadium is ready. The $125 million Harrison Square project also includes a hotel and parking garage.

“When we broke ground (on the stadium), there was a lot of excitement and momentum,” Schoen said. “But the capital markets and psyche has changed since then. We were used to getting financing for 75 to 80 percent of a project, but our (original) financing package was not well-received.” That was a major reason construction has not started before now.

Barry’s current financing proposal, however, calls for the company to provide about half the equity needed to build the project’s housing and retail component. “And the banks are interested at that level,” Schoen said.

Jerry Hakes is interested, too. A partner in Hakes & Robrock Builders Inc., he was at the Summit Club to investigate the possibility of buying unfinished condos, completing them, then selling them for a profit. “We’re great baseball fans,” Hakes said.

Despite the slower-than-expected condo sales, Schoen said he is in serious negotiations with tenants able to fill more than 100 percent of the available retail space. A combination grocery story/pharmacy is a strong possibility, he said, along with the anticipated restaurants and bars.

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