For years, The Vue’s darkened floors were a symbol of the recession’s shadow in Charlotte: The city’s tallest luxury condominium tower sat mostly empty as it struggled through foreclosure and lawsuits.
Now, the tower is both a reminder of how bad things were just a few years ago and how quickly the top end of the market has turned. Since new owners converted it to apartments and sunk millions of dollars into amenities, The Vue is now 95 percent leased, an all-time high.
“It came online, unfortunately, probably at the worst time, when folks were seeing valuations of for-sale products drop, banks were under heavy scrutiny, not lending,” said David Ravin, CEO of the building’s owner Northwood Ravin. “It was market fundamentals, but also market fear that had people withdrawing all investments.”
Now, renters are willing to pay a premium for the tower at Fifth and Pine streets. A 571-square-foot studio starts at $1,299 a month, while the 51st-story penthouses rent for $6,725 to $7,790 a month.
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Only one of the six penthouses hasn’t been leased yet, and property managers were showing off the unit to prospective renters last week.
It wasn’t always this way. When The Vue was announced in 2005, it was the seventh high-rise residential tower planned in 10 months, the height of the pre-recession boom. Initial demand appeared strong, as The Vue presold more than half of its units.
But by 2009, uptown’s overheated condo market had gone ice cold. Work on the tower stopped for a month as the general contractor said it hadn’t been paid by the developer.
The Vue opened in 2010, but by April 2011 only 16 buyers had closed on their condos, out of 409 units total. The Vue was soon embroiled in legal battles as buyers tried to get out of their contracts.
The end came in 2012, when the lender foreclosed on the tower’s Chicago-based developer, MCL Cos.
Charlotte-based Northwood Ravin, an affiliate of Northwood Investors, based in New York, paid $103 million for the tower at auction.
Charlotte is in the midst of a major apartment-building boom, with more than 10,000 units under construction and the same number planned. RealData, which tracks apartment construction and vacancy rates in the Southeast, has said Charlotte’s vacancy rate could rise to 8 percent next year, up from 5.3 percent, and rent growth could slow. That’s below the double-digit vacancy rates that followed the latest recession, but high enough that experts say some complexes will have to offer concessions like a month’s free rent to lure renters.
Most of the apartments being built are high-end complexes uptown or in the surrounding neighborhoods. But Ravin said he’s not worried about increased competition, because The Vue will still be the only tower with its height and ultra-luxe amenities.
“It may be a while before a developer underwrites a project of that magnitude,” said Ravin. And though he said The Vue isn’t completely insulated from the economy, he isn’t concerned that a downturn could torpedo the building again.
“No one is immune to market corrections,” said Ravin. “I do think most of the people living here are renting by choice.”
View from The Vue
From the upper floors, the view stretches west to the foothills and into the Carolina Panthers’ and Charlotte Knights’ stadiums.
Northwood Ravin spent $20 million on renovations at the property, expanding the gym and yoga room, adding a golf simulator and 50th-floor Sky Lounge room for residents (where former Charlotte Hornet Muggsy Bogues and his wife recently remarried), outdoor kitchens, a covered dog park and new electronic locks and finishes in the apartments.
The apartment building also has a billiards room, heated pool and classes for residents, such as sunrise yoga and boot camp fitness. And Northwood Ravin is still adding amenities, including a barista bar opening soon.
The tenant mix skews older for an apartment building, with 55 percent of residents older than 35 years old and 10 percent older than 58.
Property Manager Hali Eplin said she still occasionally hears from people who almost bought a condo at The Vue.
“I’ve gotten a handful of emails from people who say ‘I want to see the one I was going to buy,’” said Eplin.
But she can’t. Eplin almost invariably has to tell them that someone else is living there now.
Ely writes about growth and development at charlotteobserver.com/business. Follow him on Twitter at @ESPortillo. Send him news tips and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-358-5041.