We’ve talked so many times on this site about good urban development. There are a number of common features – which turn out to be not-so-common. We’d all like to see parking lots turning to buildings and we’ve seen a little of that in recent months. We’d like to see retail rimming the bottom of new construction and we’d like it to include multi-use. Downtown needs, as we’ve discussed, homes for purchase and those homes need to be in a variety of sizes in order to be family-friendly. We’d also like any new construction to be high-quality and architecturally interesting. Is that too much to ask?
Not in the case of Regas Square, a development by Joe Petre of Conversion Properties in conjunction with Farris Eid and Jesse Galbraith with Design Innovation Architects. The new six-story building located on its name-sake, the old parking lot for Regas Restaurant, will have all of that, plus additional features you might not expect. The first floor will be rimmed with retail on Williams Street where it will face new retail development by Dewhirst Properties, along an entire block of Depot Avenue where it will face Southern Railway Station and Southern Depot, and along Gay Street.
The vision for the retail is for a high-end anchor restaurant on the corner of Gay and Depot, with a more casual, large restaurant on the corner of Depot and Williams. The retail between would be chosen carefully to add to the quality of life of the residents as well as that of those nearby. Parking for retail will be along Depot and Gay, as well as in the 400 spaces beneath I-40. Initial emphasis by the developer will focus on pre-sales of the condominiums, with more attention given to the retail component at a later time.
The residential units will each feature attractive views, with high ceilings and large windows – a benefit made easier by ground-up construction. All bedrooms will have windows and each unit will have a large (about 7’X12′) balcony, while some three bedroom homes will have two balconies. The homes will range in size from about 700 square feet to over 2300 square feet, with a large proportion in the 1400 to 1900 range. A quarter of the one hundred units will be one bedroom, with about sixty-seven two bedroom and eight three-bedroom units.
Prices will range from $189,000 and the low $200,000 range upward to an as-yet-to-be-determined price for the largest penthouse, which will be the only unit to feature two floors, a mezzanine and roof-top access. The average price will be around $385,000, but this, according to Mr. Petre, is skewed by the price of the largest units some of which on the prominent corner will likely be in the $500,000 to $600,000 range.
The floors will be slightly elevated from the norm due to the fact that the first floor retail level is about two floors tall. An HOA will be formed for the upper floors once they are sold while the bottom floor will remain in the possession of Conversion Properties. Residents will have access to storage, a club room and a fitness center as well as private parking on two levels behind the retail space.
The building is large, and while standing at one end of the parking lot and surveying its length will give you an idea of scale along the street, look to the height of the AT&T building to get an idea of that of the new building, as it will be only slightly shorter. Due to the depth of the building, it will have an indention in the center which allows more units to have greater views and also provides the opportunity for one of the coolest features of the building: A shared outdoor courtyard for residents will sit atop the retail space and will be landscaped with trees, outdoor furniture and more.
The project is still in design and development and, in fact, if you compare the lined rendering to the color rendering, you see some minor differences, particularly in the prominent corner. The line drawing is the more current. There are still approvals to pursue, particularly a slight change in zoning. Facade approval should come next week when the concept is taken before the Downtown Design Review Board. The proposed facade is comprised largely of brick and glass with limestone and zinc accents
Joe becomes animated when talking about the project, saying, “Why haven’t we done this, already?” Part of the answer, he acknowledges, is the difficulty obtaining financing in the post-recession banking world. Still, he enthuses, “This is the first opportunity any of us have had to start fresh and determine what we want to do with a large piece of land.”
I asked him why retail, which seems important to this project, wasn’t included on the Walnut Street Garage. He pointed to a couple of factors: having a viable corridor for retail is important and the grade change on that property was severe in each direction. He sees Depot as a perfect corridor for retail and residential, noting it is a beautiful street with many projects underway, each of which will help support the others.
Noting that downtown has moved dramatically in the last several years, he says the timing is right for a project of this type. He said that he once got great advice from a developer in another city who suggested that he watch where development is headed and get in its way – which is precisely what this project will do – as it will be situated between the heart of downtown and all the development which is moving to the north.
The time-table for the project is fluid and the pace of pre-sales will dictate some of the timing, but the hope is for an early spring ground-breaking. He pointed out that development is part science and part art. He feels the market is ready to support the project. His construction team, Matt Hasbrouck with TDH Construction, will be ready by early spring, in any case, and the expectation is that the total time for construction from beginning to end will be about eighteen months with a total cost in excess of thirty million dollars.
This development seems to me to have the complete package and is the first about which that could be said since I’ve been writing about downtown. It is, in fact, almost certainly the largest ground-up development of homes for purchase in the history of downtown. Marble Alley is larger, for example, but those homes are for lease.