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VOL. 125 | NO. 125 | Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Barboro Flats Set for Success

By Andy Meek

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The first residents who begin moving into Barboro Flats’ 92 apartments Thursday will find a host of amenities and urban comforts waiting for them inside the brand new five-story building at 100 South Main.

They include everything from remote-controlled ceiling fans to large closets to windows with pedestals where residents can read or people-watch as Main Street bustles below.

An elevated “urban courtyard” will serve as a communal gathering space. Residents will also find an on-site parking garage, as well as access to a private fitness center across the street.

One of the few things that won’t be readily apparent, however, is the longtime-coming story behind Barboro Flats, the arrival of which became a feat worth celebrating among Downtown boosters.

After dilapidated buildings at the site were torn down earlier this decade, the weed-infested lot at the corner of Main and Gayoso sat vacant for so long, skepticism abounded. At the project’s ceremonial groundbreaking in early 2009, Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford recalled the people who thought it “would be a cold day in you-know-where” before progress was made.

It was a giant crater Downtowners started identifying as, simply, “the hole in the ground.”

Filling the hole – an effort that’s been about seven years in the making - came only after years of negotiations over alternately stalled, then competing development plans. A more ambitious effort for the site fizzled years ago, and Downtown officials chose the concept that became Barboro Flats from among several different possibilities pitched by developers.

An earlier set of plans called for a 28-story residential tower with a parking garage. A development team that included The Henry Turley Co. and Greenhat Partners was ultimately chosen to transform the half-block site.

SunTrust Bank stepped up to provide financing, and Looney Ricks Kiss Architects Inc. and Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC were tapped as the project’s architect and contractor, respectively.

Dirt was finally moved in early 2009. Slovis & Associates is handling commercial leasing at Barboro Flats, where a search is still under way for a tenant that can fill 7,200 square feet of commercial space.

Property manager Stephanie Hall said there’s lately been a spike in residential tenant demand with the recent opening of a model unit and the kick-off of leasing.

“I’m open every day so I can accommodate everybody coming in,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of interest from walk-ins and people who find us from the website (www.barboroflats.com), Facebook and Craigslist.”

She points out key features inside the units with the aplomb of a tour guide who relishes showing off.

Attractive faux wood blinds here. Stainless steel appliances there.

“We’re really pleased with the way it looks,” said Jason Wexler, principal of Greenhat Partners. “We promised it would fit in with the neighborhood and be respectful of the neighborhood and reflective of it, but also stand alone as its own project. And it really works on all those accounts.”

The arguably plodding pace of development – much of which involved factors outside his group’s control – also may have worked in its favor. And Wexler said it’s a testament to the project’s strength that the group could close on its financing in late 2008, only months after the national economy nearly fell off a cliff.

“There’s also a lot of folks especially in the young professional market – which is where a lot of the Downtown leasing is focused – who rather than jump into a first purchase are staying in the rental market a little longer,” Wexler said. “Until they’re absolutely sure where and when they want to buy.”

By a turn of fate, the project’s opening may not be the only big Downtown development news this week. City leaders and Bass Pro Shops officials are reportedly planning to announce Wednesday that a long-term lease has been reached to turn the shuttered Pyramid Arena into a giant Bass Pro-focused retail site.

Nevertheless, the opening of Barboro Flats is a big step forward in its own right and represents a major item now marked off the checklist of Downtown officials.

Sanford, who officially retires as CCC president and CEO the same day Barboro Flats will open, told The Daily News redeveloping the site at Main and Gayoso proved to be one of the toughest challenges he encountered at the CCC.

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