Schmooze with a view

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June 13, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

How to market a 50-story condo tower

On July 2, at the corner of South 10th Street & Nicollet Mall, an abandoned Mercedes, hazards flashing, blocked a lane of rush-hour traffic alongside the Dakota Bar and Grill, 1010 Nicollet Mall. A well-dressed man handed the keys to his new Lincoln Navigator to a young valet. Another valet ran up the block. Another SUV arrived, then another Mercedes.

Inside the Dakota, a guest-list crowd was gathered to celebrate The Nicollet on the Mall, a 50-story luxury condominium tower that will soon rise across from the Dakota.

It was an evening of cocktails, handshakes and finger food, the air filled with the elegant sound of moneyed chatter and live jazz. Servers wandered the room with trays of wine and hors d'oeuvres. Most guests wore suits or evening dresses, but styles included casual and even the odd Hawaiian shirt and shorts.

At either end of the room, huge plasma screen TVs presented various views of the tower: A fly-by shot of the building in the foreground of the Minneapolis skyline; a sidewalk vantage point looking up at the tower; and the view from the top, looking over the city from high-rise balconies.

"Here comes my view," said one man to another as they watched.

The event was part sell, part celebration. The assembled included the team of developers, friends and family, financiers, potential financiers, sales associates and city officials, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, who came straight from the other end of the housing spectrum: dedicating affordable housing units at the Hawthorne Apartments, 1501 Hawthorne Ave.

Rybak praised The Nicollet during a short speech, calling it "a magnificent piece of sculpture referred to as a condominium building."

Developer Jeff McDonald of Barbour/LaDouceur Design Group introduced the crowd to his partners - Ron Johnson of RDJ Homes, Hunt and Associates President Dan Hunt, and John Ordway and Len Pratt of Pratt Ordway properties - as well as Norman Skalicky, CEO of Stearns Bank, which will finance buying the land and existing building. Afterwards, McDonald said that finding financing for the construction - the greater cost - is only a matter of which financier to choose from.

"We intend to be a part of the Downtown renaissance," McDonald said during his speech.

Architect Janis LaDouceur spoke eloquently about the design, which was born on a cocktail napkin. The design features two contrasting sides separated north/south by a dramatic curving line.

"It should wear a suit to the north," where the building faces the business district, LaDouceur told the crowd. The south face is intended to "scoop in all the joy" of nearby entertainment amenities such as Orchestra Hall and Brit's Pub.

Developer Len Pratt spoke as well. "In case any of you are wondering what you can do to help us out," he said, drawing laughter as he motioned to the floor plans and sales associates at the end of the dining room.

After the speeches, many people did float to that end, where associates from Financial Freedom Realty waited to talk with potential buyers. One man sat at a table, taking careful notes on unit floor plans, which range from 787 to 3,000 square feet. A man nearby whipped out his checkbook for a $1,000 reservation, which guarantees a place in line to buy one of the 314 units.

Financial Freedom's Joanne Hitch said that "think tank" forums have been held for prospective buyers to give feedback on what they'd like to see.

"We want the city to embrace the project," Hitch said. "Their needs are becoming a part of the building."

A press packet outlined the Nicollet's "amenity-rich lifestyle," which includes rooftop Maple trees, restaurant service, a custom pool and spa, and an in-house movie theater.

Nearby, Sales Associate Ryan Maurer told computer programmer Barry Svee that Svee could expect to pay about $375-$400 per square foot for a condo - relatively rich for the Downtown market.

Maurer said 175 reservations had been taken before the event; he expected 75-100 more that evening. The reservation check is refundable; only 30 percent of the reservations become sales, he said.

Maurer said he prefers to spend more time with potential buyers. He talked with Svee for as long as he could and ended the conversation with an invitation to coffee.

Svee, 39, and his wife Michele Picard, 40, are 170th in line, but the couple is not rushing to make a decision. Picard said they are looking at a condo as an investment to rent out until they move out of their Minnetonka home.

Whether or not they end up at the Nicollet, Picard said Downtown living would be nice for restaurants, theatre and music venues, and to be near Svee's family, who live near Loring Park.

Picard said there are a lot of unanswered questions about the Nicollet in this early stage - they had heard price estimates from $300-$400 per square foot from three different sales associates, and no estimate about condo fees. Picard said she hopes the questions will be answered at a meeting they'll attend soon.

The Nicollet's sales office is expected to open later this month at 88 S. 10th St.