Condo developers high on Chapel lHill – Ram now selling units in 140 West Franklin
July 6, 2008
By Jack Hagel, Staff Writer – The Chapel Hill News
CHAPEL HILL — Outside a former Franklin Street gas station, hundreds of developers, dignitaries and potential condo buyers gathered under a big tent last month.
After the visitors nibbled smoked salmon crepes, sipped adult beverages and listened to a disc jockey spin adult contemporary music, organizers hoped they would mosey down to a sales center where Ram Realty Services was introducing its 140-unit condominium project, 140 West Franklin.
The scene sounds so 2005.
Back then, when easy lending was fueling the housing boom, lavish parties introducing condominium projects cluttered the calendars of developers and potential buyers across the country. Now, amid one of the biggest housing slumps in national history, it may seem difficult to take a pre-sales campaign seriously.
But Ram and two chief competitors — East West Partners and Greenbridge Developments — are betting that Chapel Hill is an oasis of pent-up demand. Buoyed in part by UNC’s growth, developers think there will be enough buyers to snap up 368 condos by 2012.
“It has such a broad appeal to so many different segments of the market: retirees, people who are involved with the university, people that just want that as a place to raise children or a place to live,” said Casey Cummings, Ram’s president.
Ram will begin taking reservations at 140 West Franklin this month. Its goal is to finish the building, on a 1.7-acre parking lot at Franklin and Church streets, by the end of 2011. By then, Ram hopes to have sold out. It’s a lofty goal. Because of the housing and credit crises, it is generally harder for potential buyers to sell their homes elsewhere. Plus, the project will have to catch up to two competitors: Greenbridge and East 54.
Construction began last year on East 54, off N.C. 54. It’s being developed by East West Partners of Chapel Hill. Its 53-unit first phase is sold out, and one-quarter of its 40-unit second phase is pre-sold. “We’ve had unbelievable success,” said Roger Perry, East West’s president.
The project will include 175 condos. Perry expects to sell out by early 2009. East 54 also is seeking a designation from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system, which would help it compete with Greenbridge, a 98-unit project at Franklin and Graham streets.
Greenbridge has pre-sold about half its units, said Tim Toben, a partner in Greenbridge Developments, the Chapel Hill group building the project.
Excavation for an underground parking deck is under way. Vertical construction is to finish in April 2010, Toben said. The 140 West Franklin project has a more central location and more parking than Greenbridge. It will feature earth-friendly design features, but the developer won’t seek LEED certification.
Ram wants 25 percent of its condos to be pre-sold before it breaks ground on the building, which includes 26,000 square feet of shops. Ram is so comfortable building in Chapel Hill that it is looking past 140 West Franklin to 345 additional condominiums and townhouses it wants to build. Construction of Ram’s Grove Park wouldn’t start until at least mid-2009.
“If you make the investment in time in a community,” Cummings said, “you’re rewarded for that.”