CHAPEL HILL - The cranes have come down and the brick facades gone up as 140 West Franklin enters the home stretch.
Ram Realty Services and general contractor John Moriarty & Associates recently announced the $55 million condominium and retail project has created nearly 500 jobs since construction began.
Local subcontractors and vendors have been hired for much of the interior and finishing work.
“It greatly helps the local economy when local craftsman are used,” said Mike Hoffer, president and co-founder of Carolina Closets, which is handling the storage space for the units. “We’re able to meet with each homeowner whenever they come to town. Since our showroom is right here in Chapel Hill, it makes things a lot easier.”
A sign on the east side of 140 West proclaims 65 percent of the 140 units have been sold. That includes 18 units priced to meet the town’s affordability guidelines (see sidebar, page 3).
In an interview Ram Chairman Peter Cummings said the company expects to begin closings in the first quarter of 2013.
The eight-story project includes 28,540 square feet of retail space. Ram has leases or letters of intent for eight of the 10 spaces, representing between 70 and 80 percent of the retail square footage, Cummings said.
“The retail is outpacing our expectations,” he said. “It’s just (the attraction) of new construction in a great location.”
He declined to name any tenants but suggested some might be familiar to Chapel Hill shoppers. “A couple of deals,” he said, are being driven by the pending redevelopment of University Square across the street.
Contacted Friday, employees at Fine Feathers boutique and William Travis Jewelry said nothing had been decided yet; the jewelry store is negotiating on several locations. A call to Peacock Alley Gifts, another store at the shopping center, was not returned. Condo bidding war?
Some real estate watchers have speculated whether Chapel Hill might see a bidding war for downtown condos as the Greenbridge project on West Rosemary Street comes back on the market later this year. The project was foreclosed on when final costs exceeded projections and the bank wouldn’t loan the developers more money.
Cummings doesn’t think so.
Unlike Greenbridge, Ram was able to renegotiate its construction costs after the recession hit. It also started the project with enough equity so it didn’t have to use home sales to pay off a loan.
As a result, after lowering its initial prices about two years ago, Ram has steadily raised them about 25 percent, Cummings said.
The remaining units run from one-bedroom units facing a plaza starting at $325,000 to $1.5 million terrace units with outdoor patios.
“We feel comfortable about our ability to compete in the marketplace,” Cummings said. “We do not think we will need to reduce prices.”
The project will have 337 total parking spaces (330 underground and up to 15 on the street), according to the town’s website. The town will own 161 spaces; condominium owners, the other 176.
The town is paying for the garage but was able to reduce its costs from an estimated $7.245 million to $6.7 million, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said Friday.
All told, 140 West is expected to bring the town just over $1 million a year in property and sales tax revenue and parking fees by its fifth year, according to the wesbite. Bullish on downtown
Some have questioned the demand for high-end condominiums in Chapel Hill, given Greenbridge’s foreclosure and remaining unsold units in East 54 on N.C. 54 at the eastern entrance to town.
But Cummings, whose company is based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has always been bullish on downtown, saying 140 West has the best location for people to take advantage of Chapel Hill’s nightlife and campus offerings.
He said his wife convinced him to buy one of the units himself.
“I’d been thinking about it,” he said. “I finally got my wife on site, and she just absolutely fell in love with the place.
“I expect that’s where I’ll be based when I’m visiting the Carolinas.”