Monday, May 14, 2001

Luxury condos seen for downtown

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The developer of the 911 Race St. condo project is rolling the dice on another downtown housing project.

        JFP Properties plans to convert the old Fourth National Bank building at 18 E. Fourth St. into a series of luxury condos that are large (3,600 square feet) and expensive ($600,000 to $1.25 million).

        “We may be crazy, but we think there's going to be a market out there,” said Jeff Jacobs, president and chief operating officer of JFP Properties. ""We feel there will be 10 people out there who want to live in the heart of downtown.”

        The $7 million project will create one unit per floor, with condos on the top levels fetching higher prices because of snapshot views of the riverfront.

        But the project depends on JFP's ability to sell at least four or five units in the 95-year-old building before starting construction. Banks have told JFP that they expect 40 to 50 percent of the units sold before they will finance the project.

        That's a common requirement for financing downtown housing projects, and Mr. Jacobs doesn't expect to have a difficult time clearing that hurdle — even after the recent riots in nearby neighborhoods such as Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills.

        JFP's success at developing four condos at 911 Race St. captured the attention of other developers. Although one buyer at 911 Race St. has since backed off a pur chase, Mr. Jacobs believes there's a viable market for downtown condos.

        Other projects include the renovation of a historic building at 309 W. Fifth St., and Towne Properties is considering a large-scale, moderately-priced condo project at Seventh and Vine streets — one of two sites where the

        city has said it will build a parking garage.

        Corporex Cos. is testing the limits of Cincinnati's market with its penthouse project along the Covington riverfront. Those units are priced $1.5 million to $2 million.

        The strongest attribute of the East Fourth Street condos will be proximity to downtown jobs and entertainment, Mr. Jacobs said.

        JFP and its partner, building owner Janaka Fourth Street Ltd., will launch a marketing blitz later this month for the East Fourth Street project. The campaign will include hand-delivered letters describing the project to top business executives working downtown, said Realtor Christine Schoonover.

        Mr. Jacobs hopes a combination of the building's history and modern touches are enough to lure affluent buyers. The plan is to start construction in July.

        The building's old crank-operated elevator will be updated to open into the marble-lined foyer of each unit.

        The developer will restore the exterior to its original look, in cluding re-installing granite columns.

        The building has been vacant since Janaka shut it down last year. The structure was too expensive to maintain as an office building, and Janaka was unwilling to invest in modern improvements needed to fetch higher rents.

        A few years ago, JFP Properties had considered converting the building into apartment units but decided parking and other costs would be too expensive.

        JFP has secured 20 parking spaces at the nearby Westin Hotel garage for residents.


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