Market strong for new Harbor condos

Fifty of 180 units are sold before ground is broken, Opus says.

The condos aren’t here yet, but down payments from Hong Kong and Tennessee have already arrived.

The Opus Corporation has sold 50 of the 180 units of the Harbor Square housing and retail development planned for Winslow Way across from the ferry terminal, the project’s developers said this week.

Set for completion in November 2006, the island’s largest mixed-use development has surpassed the builders’ early sales goals.

“We’ve passed our ‘realistic plans’ and are now into our ‘optimistic plans,’” said Opus real estate manager Gary Blakeslee during an event hosted by the Bainbridge Island Economic Council Wednesday.

“Population has been growing, people need a place to live, and people will be enamored with island living.”

Opus launched a many-pronged marketing campaign for the planned development, including newspaper and in-flight magazine ads, mass mailings, a mini-movie commercial, and bottled water, latte cup sleeves and hats bearing the condos’ maritime-theme logo.

Drop-in offices with architectural models and posters of the proposed development have also opened in downtown Winslow and Seattle.

Much of the marketing has highlighted the Bainbridge Island lifestyle as a place where the urban-weary can “savor the quaint sophistication” and “vibrant charm of downtown Winslow,” as stated in the project’s glossy promotional materials.

People from all over the country and the globe – including Singapore and Iraq – are taking the bait, with some paying over $700,000 for a spot in the 4.3-acre development, Opus said.

Local buyers have also shown interest, according to condo sales manager Janice Merrill Brown.

“Some are from Port Ludlow who are too remote from medical facilities, some are from Seattle’s Eastside who want a second home, and some are people from the island who want to invest,” she said.

Brown also expects to draw buyers from Seattle’s burgeoning biotechnology industry, she said, more so than from the more youthful Microsoft crowd “who don’t want to live in a bedroom community.”

A new 180-development doesn’t necessarily mean increased traffic and crowding downtown, Blakeslee told the economic group.

He believes many of the residences will only be occupied for part of the year as vacation homes.

Permanent condo residents will likely commute by ferry – a brief walk away – and shop by foot, leaving their cars tucked away in the condo’s underground parking lot.

Event attendee and Fort Ward resident Christopher Snow commended Opus for crafting a development that matches the local community’s plans for future growth.

“Much of what is proposed is on-track with Winslow Tomorrow,” Snow said, citing the development’s dense, mixed-use design and its incorporation of green space and pedestrian amenities.

Blakeslee agreed that the condo will be an early test case and “laboratory of some ideas” taking shape in Winslow Tomorrow.

Winslow Tomorrow project manager Sandy Fischer praised the development’s underground parking and retail-over-residential design.

But she said she would have liked to see more public access to and through the area, including use of the condo’s green space and streets or trails that permit north-south travel.

Fischer also said not having a mix of prices was a “missed opportunity” that could have made the development “more neighborhood than development project.”

Blakeslee said Opus ruled out adding an “affordable housing” element because related requirements are “very impractical” and can “negatively impact all the units.”

“Trying to add low income housing has killed a lot of (other) deals,” he said.

But some of the smaller, 580 square-foot units may start at $200,000, Brown said, making these residences about half the island’s average home price.

The average price for one of the condo’s units will be about $370,000, she added.

Blakeslee said “the market will determine” who will get a spot in the development’s six, ground-level retail units.

“We’ll try hard to have neighborhood businesses because that’s our priority,” he said. “But we know that’s sometimes a struggle – it takes a lot of capital to get going and to keep going.”

Dependable, proven businesses are likely to range high on Opus’s prospective tenant list.

“We don’t want dark stores, and we want (businesses) that are sustainable,” he said.

He said it’s also important to find businesses that cater to condo residents.

“We could get a McDonald’s or Subway just like that,” he said. “But that’s a $3 dollar lunch. The market may prefer a $6 lunch option, and that’s what we’d like to see.”

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