Catalyst tower well on its way to completion

The Catalyst condo tower – which recently reached its ultimate height of 27 stories – seems to have sprung up almost overnight on South Church Street.

Novare Group's Tony Skillbeck, president of the developer's Carolinas division, understands the perception, but he says it wasn't quite that fast. Novare broke ground last August, and expects move buyers into units in January.

Unlike its highly visible neighbor across Church Street – Wachovia's 48-story tower and cultural campus – Catalyst didn't need to excavate for underground parking.

Novare is saving time with a 1,208-space above-ground deck it will share with 440 S. Church St., a planned 15-story office building.

Wachovia, which started in early 2006 by digging about 10 stories deep, will be plugging away until the last building on the site is finished in late 2010.

Catalyst also is unusual for another reason. Novare started it on speculation at South Church Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard without trying to sell condos in advance. Developers typically want to pre-sell at least half the units to qualify for financing before launching a project.

From Novare's perspective, anticipation builds as a building goes up. And when sales finally do begin, buyers can move in quickly.

“I think there are people who are real excited about it,” said multi-family housing analyst Emma Littlejohn of The Littlejohn Group. “It's a project that can commit to a closing date and deliver homes within a reasonable amount of time.”

Two condo towers are stalled and two others were put on hold earlier this year as the Uptown residential market began to slow.

“A lot of people have been on the sidelines because they have been waiting for a project that can deliver on a timeline,” Littlejohn said.

Skillbeck said seeing the Catalyst well on its way to completion should be reassuring to buyers. “That's one of the keys to this – the degree of certainty,” he said.

Littlejohn said about 1,200 high-rise and midrise units are under construction or in the pre-sale stage in the center city. More than half of those are under contract for sale, she said.

Novare targets mainly 25- to 40-year-old buyers with a predominance of one-bedroom units and amenities packages that include a fitness center, club room, pool, Internet cafe and concierge service.

Catalyst will have 462 units, 65 percent of which will be one-bedroom condos starting in the $180,000s.

One-bedroom units with a den start in the $250,000s and two-bedrooms in the $330,000s. Catalyst doesn't have penthouses.

Novare officials chose the project's name to emphasize its potential to be a catalyst for development in Third Ward, where the condo tower will overlook a planned public park.

One more component – a residential/hotel tower named TWELVE Hotels & Residences – is planned on the site, but Skillbeck said it probably won't be started until fall 2009.

The Catalyst is the Atlanta-based Novare's second project in Charlotte. Its first – the 36-story Avenue condo tower at 210 N. Church St. – is finished, with eight of 386 units remaining for sale.