A 15-story condo tower with outdoor and indoor swimming, a rooftop terrace, a fitness center and views of the Omaha skyline is poised to rise next on the Iowa side of the riverfront.
Chicago-based Argent Group, which is developing the 68-unit project, later this month is to begin preselling the luxury homes priced from $325,000 to about $1 million.
The first-ever condominiums to go vertical on the Council Bluffs side of the riverfront, the venture also marks the first new condo structure since 2011 when Riverfront Place II opened on the Omaha side, area real estate experts said.
Named Moselle Residences — after a river that flows through France and boasts picturesque views of castles, wineries and hillside towns — the owner-occupied condos are to stand next to a similarly-sized tower of rental apartments likely to be built afterward.
The companion structures will spill out to a courtyard and be residential high points of the overall and still-developing River’s Edge mixed-use campus expected to help blur boundaries and promote activity between Omaha and Bluffs.
Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh called the towers project a “dawn of a new day” that would change the image of his city and lure dwellers that could raise average income, educational attainment and affect other indicators that play a role in luring new development.
“It really is something stunning that will immediately change people’s perception,” the mayor said.
Carrying a price tag of about $75 million, the Moselle Residences are the latest buzz surrounding the transforming tract that stretches east of the Missouri River to and including the former 25-acre Playland Park.
Primary developers Noddle Cos. and Iowa West Foundation have said they anticipate private and public investment to reach $170 million.
Already under construction is the 67,000-square-foot office structure that will serve as the new headquarters for the Iowa West Foundation, and lower-rise Broadmoor Development apartments. Streets and other infrastructure have been installed, along with a community pavilion and sprinkler park where concerts and public events will unfold.
Those walking east across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which connects downtown Omaha to the Bluffs, would be greeted by the community pavilion and L-shaped Moselle complex that surrounds a courtyard and two-story parking structure topped with a swimming pool.
While lots of apartments have been built or remodeled in Omaha’s downtown area over the past few years, a question on many minds: Is the area ripe for the sale of new condos?
Tasha Moss, an expert in downtown Omaha area residential sales, thinks so. She and Heartland Properties of Council Bluffs are marketing the new homes for developer Argent.
“The condo market bounced back a couple of years ago,” said Moss of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate. Options for newer luxury condos are limited downtown, she said. “There haven’t been any new projects for a number of years.”
Clarity Development’s South Hill Rowhouses is the latest cluster of for-sale housing to be constructed near downtown — and the site actually is south of downtown at 10th and William Streets. At prices around $300,000, some of the 36 multilevel row houses still are being built and are of a different ownership structure than condos (row house buyers own the land beneath their living quarters).
Condo-buyers at the Moselle, on the other hand, would have shared ownership in the overall property and own their interior unit.
Moss said many of her clients in search of a high-end downtown home are not keen on stairs. For a buyer looking in the $300,000 and above range, she pointed to a day last week when about 25 downtown options were available, of which about half involved no stair-climbing.
“Parking also is a big deal,” she said, particularly for empty-nesters who want two stalls.
To be sure, older condo buildings have multiple units for sale in the downtown area for less than $300,000.
Newer ones in good shape have been getting snapped up, said Lisa Ritter of Re/Max Results. One of Ritter’s clients is about to close on a unit at the downtown Rows at SoMa. It went under contract less than two weeks after going on the market (its owner was transferred to a different city).
Listed at $225,000, that home sold last summer for $218,000. Prior to that, the place sold in 2010 for $210,000.
Moss said she, likewise, sees luxury downtown condo prices back to and above levels before the housing crisis hit locally around 2009.
A condo in the Ford Warehouse near 10th and Dodge Streets, for example, sold for $250,000 last summer, up from its $190,000 sale five years earlier and the $225,000 price it sold for in 2007.
At Beebe + Runyan, on Ninth and Douglas Streets, a condo sold late last year for $267,000, up from $211,000 in 2015 and $237,000 in 2006.
At Kimball Lofts near 15th and Jones Streets, a condo sold last year for $342,000, up from $275,000 in 2013 and $350,000 in 2006.
Sara Porter of Heartland Properties said luxury condos are new to the Bluffs, “but I think there is a pent-up demand for higher-end condos.”
She said their market studies show a mix of Iowans and Omahans — and even western Nebraskans who want a second home near the airport — are interested.
Ben Proctor of Ambassador, who helped broker condo sales at the Omaha Riverfront Place, said he has seen developers nervous to re-engage downtown after the decline of 2009 through 2012. There had been a lot of supply at the time and it took a while to “creatively work through” the inventory, he said.
Mutual of Omaha’s Midtown Crossing condos, although farther west, also affected the downtown market, Proctor said. “They built 300 units at once, when the market was declining. That’s a lot to absorb.”
Mutual early on turned some of the condos into corporate apartments, but systematically is not renewing leases to allow homes to be sold for their original intent.
Molly Skold, spokeswoman for Mutual’s real estate arm, said Midtown Crossing condo sales went up about 10 percent last year. To date, she said, 66 percent of the condos have sold at an average of about $300,000. They surround Turner Park and are in the midst of retailers and restaurants.
Proctor is encouraged by Argent’s entry into the local market. “It’s great to see we’ve come back to this point where a developer is willing to take a risk to do a multifamily high-rise condo project.”
Marty Hosking of Keller Williams Realty said home ownership is critical to building up a downtown area, and he sees condos as a natural progression for renters who want to build investment. “I don’t know a millennial who wants to pay for an apartment all of their life.”
Inner-city housing developers don’t have the sanitary improvement district financing tool that boosts suburban housing, notes Clarity Development’s Tom McLeay. With land and construction prices so high, he said, location plays an important part in success of midtown and downtown for-sale housing.
At the Moselle, designed by DLR Group of Omaha, about half the proposed condos must be presold to secure financing and start construction, Argent agents say. Chief Executive Mark Matthews doesn’t anticipate a struggle.
He said his company had been looking at the Omaha-area market for a while, and was attracted in part to the fact that River’s Edge campus was rising from scratch yet was close to popular places such as riverfront casinos and Omaha’s CenturyLink Center and had easy Interstate access and great views.
Part of Moselle’s beauty, said he and DLR’s Daniel Siedhoff, would be its connectivity to trails, retailers, concerts and public offerings at the River’s Edge.
“It’s got all of the parts and pieces that make a community,” said Siedhoff.