среда, 4 июня 2008 г.

Recession? What recession?

There's no such thing at Escala, the 31-story, mixed-use condominium complex under construction at Fourth and Virginia in downtown Seattle.Escala is so confident about Seattle's prospects that this week, the builder is raising prices between 3 and 7 percent for the unsold units. Prices reach $8.5 million.

Raising prices in a recession? Who's the developer, Alfred E. Neuman?

No matter that the 16-story European Tower in Bellevue has been put on hold until the market turns around and its financing smooths out.

No matter that on Seattle streets, people are panhandling and biking to work; or that the economic pinch we started feeling this year has broken the skin. We're bleeding cash.

And yet, at 1920 Fourth Ave., the mantra repeats: Grandeur. Exclusivity. Elegance.

The Escala folks refuse to believe in any other life.

In fact, John Midby, of the Las Vegas-based Lexas Companies, which built Escala, said he just closed on another Seattle property, this one at Stewart and Denny. He couldn't tell me the name, "But I can tell you that it will be very, very nice."

It figures that people from Vegas are the ones willing to gamble on this place, while we look over their shoulders, hoping for a free whiskey sour.

But Midby says the numbers prove that we needn't worry:

There are 7 million square feet of office space being built in Seattle. If you put five workers per 1,000 feet of office space, which is the standard, "That's a lot of people downtown," he said, adding that there are only 848 condos funded and under construction downtown.

If he's right, I need to start breathing again. If he's wrong, well, my moth-eaten hat is off to his brilliant marketing ploy.

Since announcing the price increase in April, Escala has had over $6 million in sales, Midby said. Other developers, he said, are following suit and raising their prices, too.

In doing so, they will build equity for those who have already bought, build anxiety for those on the fence, and build even more exclusivity within their walls.

So if I were ever going to get into Escala, now was the time. The other day, I got buzzed into the "presentation center." I dipped into a bowl full of Hershey's Nuggets (no cheap hard candy here), and strolled through a life I'll never know.

Marble entryways like New York's Park Avenue. Italian cabinetry. A terrace the size of a studio apartment -- complete with a fireplace. And there's a private Club Cielo for buyers.

I picked up one of the Matchbox cars pulling into the model's garage. A Porsche.

The cheapest unit at Escala is a 909-square-foot, one-bedroom, 1.5-bath unit listed at $577,180 -- not a stretch for a couple who have saved, or sold something bigger and want to downsize.

"Do you honestly think this building is going to sit vacant?" asked sales manager Chris Steibler. (Sure, if you're waiting for me to move in.)

Midby waved off my worry.

"It's a psychological thing," he said. "Everyone gets drowned in the bad stuff, only to find that it's not that bad."

If you say so ... Grandeur. Exclusivity. Elegance.

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