Wachovia doesn't plan to slow down condo tower

Wachovia Corp.'s $880 million, 48-story office tower is still climbing skyward in uptown Charlotte.

But real estate watchers are beginning to wonder when and how the final piece of the construction project – a 46-story condo tower – will emerge on the South Tryon-and-Stonewall streets block.

With the bank's announcement Monday that Ken Thompson is out as chief executive officer, will the new leadership begin to rethink the timing?

“We continue to move forward as planned – no changes at this time,” said spokeswoman Carrie Ruddy. Work is under way preparing the site, and a condo sales center is under construction uptown and due to open this fall, she said.

Center city watchers are raising questions, of course, because the high-rise market has cooled significantly during the first half of this year.

Of the 20 projects announced over the past four years, two were postponed earlier this year and work was halted on two. Four projects continue to move forward.

With lending standards tighter and less money to be made on speculation, buyers aren't as gaga over residential high-rises as they were a year ago.

Wachovia's office tower is nearly half way toward its ultimate height, and work is under way on three museums planned as part of what the bank calls its First Street Cultural Campus.

The bank says it is proceeding as planned on those projects, too.

Experts don't see any reason why the $150 million worth of cultural buildings and the office tower – to include Wachovia's corporate headquarters – wouldn't be finished in late 2009 and early 2010 as planned.

More definitive information was anticipated before now on the condo project, but real estate experts say there's no reason for bank officials to get ahead of themselves in a lackluster housing market.

“A lot of people are on the sidelines,” said multi-family real estate analyst Emma Littlejohn of The Littlejohn Group. “They want to buy a sure thing, and there are not a lot of sure things out there. By this fall, they will have little to choose from with so few under construction.”

Real estate experts say that holding off until fall on a condo marketing campaign gives the bank some flexibility in timing, pricing and defining the project.

Completion – estimated by late 2010 – is scheduled far enough out that the housing market could be in recovery by the time buyers are ready to start closing on their condos.

Wachovia officials envision 326 units in a 46-story residential tower on the cultural campus. Pricing and other details will be disclosed when the sales center opens in the fall.

Even if the condo market doesn't experience a major upswing, experts say, the residential tower still could be completed as rental apartments to meet a shortage in the center city and be converted later to condos.