When it comes to residential luxury properties, downtown Raleigh has a long way to go before it can compare with other larger U.S. cities in terms of sheer opulence.
But a project approved by the city’s Planning Commission last week shows that at least one developer believes there is demand for a new level of high-end urban living.
Within the next 60 days, Modus LLC, a Toronto-based developer, plans to begin work on The Saint, a 17-unit townhouse project in Glenwood South that will offer units priced from $750,000 to $1.4 million or more.
The four-story brownstones will range in size from 2,700 square feet to 4,400 square feet, making them some of the largest and most expensive townhouses in the Triangle. The units will feature elevators, rooftop gardens, two-car garages, European-style kitchens and loads of other expensive touches.
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“We felt that the high-end, luxury market has been underserved in downtown Raleigh,” said Souheil Al-Awar, the architect on the project. “So we felt there is momentum now to put forth, to introduce this kind of product, this kind of living.”
The Saint is Modus’ first project in the Triangle, although the Canadian company has owned the 1.25-acre site in Glenwood South since 1986. Al-Awar is part of the family real estate company’s connection to Raleigh, having attended Ravenscroft High School and earned a degree in architecture from N.C. State University’s School of Design in 1990.
The site on St. Mary’s Street was once was home to a day care, but these days has only a handful of single-family homes on it. Al-Awar said Modus’ plan was always to do a high-end residential project on the site. “We knew that eventually the market would get there,” he said.
The company was ready to move ahead in 2008 but delayed after the financial markets froze and the housing market collapsed. Now, with downtown experiencing a resurgence thanks to the influx of companies such as Citrix and Red Hat, Modus believes there is demand for such luxury.
Al-Awar said the modern design of the units will cater “to that clientele that wants something really edgy. They’re used to living in larger cities, but can’t find (such units) in Raleigh.”
Catering to the very high end of the residential market always carries risk, particularly in Raleigh where the pool of qualified buyers is smaller than in cities with higher concentrations of wealth.
For an example of what can go wrong, Modus only has to look a few blocks south at the Bloomsbury Estates condo project. That seven-story building is loaded with similar opulent touches – limestone from Israel, marble from Italy, custom cabinets from Indiana, gilded bookcases and aged-oak doors leading to trash chutes.
Bloomsbury opened in the teeth of the recession and was never able to find enough buyers. The project was eventually sold on the cheap to a Florida company that promptly slashed prices so low that the remaining units sold out in a matter of months.
The Saint, of course, isn’t likely to face such a brutal sales environment. The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of next summer, is also considerably smaller than the 56-unit Bloomsbury building.
Al-Awar said Modus could have built as many as 50 units on the site but chose instead to do something smaller that would better blend in with the existing neighborhood. “There’s a lot of apartments going up. We just didn’t want to go into that market,” he said.
Only three stories of the units will be visible from street level, as the garages will be tucked inside the sloping block and accessible by an alley.
Modus has already pre-sold six of The Saint’s units, Al-Awar said. He believes the project will appeal to people now living in downtown condos who would like to start a family but don’t necessarily want to move out to the suburbs.
“It’s an area of town that’s so highly desirable, but it’s so underdeveloped, in our opinion,” Al-Awar said of Glenwood South. “We’re giving people something of an option that’s just not out there right now.”