Hey, you're blocking my view

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August 8, 2005 // UPDATED 1:56 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Rachel Drewelow
Rachel Drewelow

With Downtown condos sprouting up, buyers' great views may not always stay that way

It has happened to everyone. After deciding to take in a movie and grab a great seat early, a taller person sits right in front of you, blocking your view. The upside is at least the movie didn't cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Fritz Kroll of Edina Real Estate lived in Lindsay Lofts, 408 N. 1st St. in a corner unit with a "great Downtown view," he said - for about two years. Unfortunately, several months after moving in, Kroll learned that his skyline sights would morph into the stacked bricks of the Rock Island Lofts, 111 4th Ave. N.

Kroll, a savvy Realtor, decided, "If you can't beat 'em join 'em." In a game of musical condos, Kroll signed a purchase agreement with Rock Island "as soon as they broke ground." He spent little time living in its shadow and closed his purchase in June 2004. Once again, he owns an unobstructed condo view.

However, not everyone can bolt out of a new condo when the beautiful river or skyline view is replaced by a neighbor's cheap balcony furniture.

Amid Downtown's condo craze - with 40 projects currently in the pipeline and about 10 more having opened in the last six months - buyers wonder if, and where, their new views are secure.

When the boom is complete, or at least this round of it, what will Downtown's skyline look like? More important to real estate, what will the skyline look like from the views within these buildings?

View protection

Alicia Garatoni, of Keller Williams Integrity Realty, advises her condo-shopping clients to look for places already surrounded by buildings. Parking lots are poison; they are ripe for development, she notes.

Garatoni and five other Realtors agreed that a condo buyer's best bet is to look near the East Bank riverfront, where Downtown skyline views seem safe even from lower floors. They recommended existing high-rises such as La Rive, 110 Bank St. and The Pinnacle and The Falls, 110 1st Ave. NE.

Newer projects next to riverfront parkland also offer security, including the eight-to-10-story 600 SE Main St. Nearby, Phoenix on the River, 224 SE 2nd St., a five- and 17-story project rising on the East Bank riverfront, has a prime Downtown view corridor, though parking lots on the project's "back side" do lurk. David Frank of Schafer Richardson, Phoenix's developer, said General Mills owns the lots for a going business, and would only sell if an expensive relocation makes sense. Frank guesses the parcels will be developed in five to 10 years.

Buying near Loring Park is also a safe gamble, Realtors said. For example, a project on the so-called "Allina/Eitel" site consists of six stories of condos fronting the park, and a 39-story tower one block off the park. The tower's park views would be safe, though the Downtown views are vulnerable to future Loring towers.

Another tall building with good protection is the 39-story Carlyle, 220 S. 2nd St., which will open in fall 2006. It's one block from the river - but the building in front of it is the low-slung, historic Main Post Office, 110 S. 8th St. Unless the post office moves (possible, but not soon) and a developer gets permission to build a tower on top of it (unlikely), Carlyle owners will still see water.

Similarly, the Caryle's Downtown-side neighbor is the U.S. Federal Office Building, 212 3rd Ave. S. also historic and unlikely to be demolished.

However, even the towering Carlyle faces some Lilliputian threats. One block downriver, a recently announced three-to-five-story riverfront condo project called "The Wave" could obstruct lower-floor views from the Carlyle and another riverfront giant, RiverWest, 401 S. 1st St.

Garatoni advises potential buyers to be aware of city meetings, zoning, high-rise and other proposals, and new construction.

For example, in the Mill District, Park Avenue West Lofts, 200 Park Ave., and Metropolitan Lofts, 545 S. 2nd St, have been built on the Downtown side of the North Star Lofts, 117 Portland Ave.; Washburn Lofts, 700 S. 2nd St.; Humboldt Lofts, 43 SE Main St.; and Stone Arch Lofts, 600 S. 2nd St.

Said Garatoni, "Depending on when a person may have purchased one of these buildings, they may not have been aware of this planned development," she said.

Referring to the Rock Island Lofts, Garatoni said, "Where you run into more of a chance of losing your view is in the Warehouse District and the new construction on the west side of the river."

How important is the view?

Still, some Realtors say view obstruction is not a concern for many Downtown buyers. "People are flocking Downtown for a lifestyle," said Todd Shipman, president elect of the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. Shipman believes that lifestyle is more important than view for most who want to live Downtown.

Condos are popular because of the "freedom and flexibility" they offer, he said. There are fewer responsibilities. People don't have to mow lawns, rake leaves, shovel or clean gutters when living in a condo. "Minnesotans have never lived that way before," he said.

Shipman said that condo-buyers must love Downtown living because "Square foot for square foot, dollar for dollar, living in a condo is more expensive than owning a house," he said.

Living Downtown offers many a short commute to work and a cure to the parking ailment. Nightlife, coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, Target, and the farmer's market are never too far away to the downtown resident. Shipman pointed out the advent of grocery stores downtown, including two Lunds stores, a possible Whole Foods and a long-rumored Trader Joe's, will also foster Downtown living.

Shipman said that while view is important, it's not the number one priority of his clients. He says this is partly because "Minnesotans have never gotten used to much of a view because the tallest building is the IDS Center."

The IDS, 80 S. 8th St., is 710 feet tall not counting the communications spire - which makes it 910 feet tall. The IDS dethroned the 30-story Foshay Tower, 821 Marquette Ave., from its 45-year reign as the tallest building in 1972. The Foshay is 447 feet, not including its spire.

Kristin Dulac of Edina Realty said that people moving from the suburbs are more interested in a skyline view. "They have this picture in their heads of a condo in the sky with a beautiful view," she said.

Realtor Travis Callstrum of ReMax Results said, "there are definitely two different species," of condo shoppers. Some "live the Downtown life and prefer skyline," others "want a getaway and go for the scenery."

Ultimately, he said, view is relative to price. "People are willing to compromise the view to afford getting into the building because they want to live Downtown regardless."

Kroll agreed that view is a "big motivator" but it doesn't motivate all. "It's definitely important to a significant group of buyers. I'm definitely surprised when people just don't care [about view]."

Kroll said the problem of view obstruction is "definitely going to be happening more and more." Still, he said he likes his condo in the Warehouse District and admits that he may have to move if his view gets blocked again.

Unfortunately, until the condo trend passes, aside from buying near the river or established buildings, buyers can't be sure what may end up being built next to them. Just like at the movies, sometimes it's wise to be patient and arrive just late enough to ensure you get a seat behind a shorter person. Of course, there is always the fear that the show might sell out before you get there.