Midtown Crossing, jLofts developers say urban lifestyle demand rebounding

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Posted: Saturday, April 27, 2013 12:00 am

The views from condos at Midtown Crossing haven't changed.

There's the park below that on summer nights fills with Jazz on the Green picnickers; the hubbub of Farnam Street shoppers and moviegoers; the downtown skyline.

What has changed in recent months, however, is demand — and that has prompted a shift in sales tactics at Midtown Crossing as well as at another high-profile condo project downtown, jLofts.

Both residential developments suffered a sales slowdown during the economic downturn but this week announced new marketing strategies to take advantage of what they say is a rebounding thirst for the live-work-play environment that was catching on before the housing market collapsed.

“We're putting the pedal to the metal and going for it,” said Molly Skold, spokesperson for East Campus Realty, the Mutual of Omaha subsidiary that owns Midtown Crossing.

Molly Skold

A couple of miles away at jLofts at 13th and Jackson Streets, 29 unsold condos were recently acquired by a company that hired R.J. Neary of Omaha's Investors Realty to manage the sales. Among efforts by Morrison Enterprises of Hastings Neb., and Phoenix, is a project to fix exterior weather and water sealants and to “aggressively” seek a tenant for 2,000 square feet of available retail space.

“We are excited about an increase in showings and look forward to adding residents,” said family representative Ken Morrison.

Both Midtown Crossing and jLofts were on the latter end of a wave of condo projects that sprang up near the city's core, with the first tenants moving into each of those developments in 2009, after the housing collapse and well into the Great Recession. Although the downturns put a damper on sales activity, representatives said they are seeing the start of a turnaround.

Midtown Crossing's nearly 300 condos — in three buildings that form a horseshoe around the western end of Turner Park — had been marketed in phases, with some units turned temporarily into rentals.

This week, Omaha's CBSHome Real Estate replaced the Chicago-based firm that had been managing sales and marketing for the condos that range from $169,000 to more than $2million.

“We've opened up all three buildings, tripled our scope, so it made more sense for us to go locally,” Skold said. She offered an update:

» Separate from the condo buildings, Midtown Crossing has about 200 apartments in two other structures that are about 98 percent full.

» The first condo building to be marketed (which also houses the businesses Crave, Prairie Life Fitness and Parmida Home) is about 55 percent sold.

» The second (which includes Grey Plume, Brix and Black Oak Grill) had its grand opening last August. Three levels are being marketed as condos; and a half-dozen condos are either sold or close to being sold. The rest of the building, which is 62 percent full, is luxury apartments that will sell as condos as demand calls.

» The third building (which includes Cantina Laredo and Saint's Pub and Patio) is about two-thirds occupied by corporate executives who rent. That residential building, too, eventually is to become condos. Its first buyers currently are carving out a two-deck, 2,500-square-foot home on the penthouse level.

Curbwise.com: Look up property valuations in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, and find real estate sales reports and neighborhood census data.

Set to move in this summer, that Omaha couple fit a popular profile, said Joseph Schmidt, vice president of operations for East Campus Realty. They are empty-nester west Omahans who eyed the condo project a few years ago but were “iffy” given the housing market and relative newness of the midtown development.

Other recent buyers have been out-of-towners who signed on the dotted line sooner — in one case, the same day the couple saw the condo.

Said Skold: “They're coming from places like San Francisco, New York, and they already 'get' condo living. For them, it's not as huge a leap as it is to some Omahans.”

Local connections provided by CBSHome agents are expected to boost buyer traffic, said CBSHome president and CEO Joe Valenti. He said his company's job is to help buyers understand the condo environment.

“Any time you have a local brokerage company handling a project of this nature, it's going to be a win-win,” Valenti said.

The main selling point of downtown and midtown condos, say Skold and Neary, is lifestyle. Concierge services run errands and walk dogs. Residents are surrounded by entertainment, retail and businesses.

At jLofts, the 29 units acquired by Morrison Enterprises range from $240,000 to $1.75million. The building has 52 units. Hiro 88, a popular Old Market restaurant, remains open in its retail space in the condo development.

Kyle and Deb Meyer, both professionals at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, have been residents of jLofts for four years. They said they like their location on the fringe of the Old Market, which puts them near most things but not smack in the middle.

“Because it's new construction and a new building, all the units have balconies and it's pretty soundproof,” he said.

Morrison was the lender on the original project that “stalled out” as the market tumbled.

“The developer was struggling to get units sold,” said Neary. And Morrison, after an Investors Realty analysis, decided the market was rebounding. The company reached a settlement with the developer as the property headed into foreclosure.

Neary expects the ownership change to spark momentum. One penthouse unit just sold. Four other condos are built out and ready for sale.

A few units had been used as rentals, but eventually are to be sold. Others are unfinished and waiting for buyers, said Neary.

Neary is optimistic.

“We expect that in the next couple of years we'll have all units sold and the building will be full of 52 families.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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