Luxury development to open as rentals

Stamford Advocate

Aug 27, 2012 :

Luxury development to open as rentals

STAMFORD -- Amid a surging demand for rental housing, one high-profile residential development in the city's downtown is about to test the market in an unprecedented way.

Highgrove, an 18-story high-rise on Forest Street designed as a Park Avenue-style condominium, is to open next month as a rental building with 95 units, according to several sources.

For months, there were rumors within development circles that Starwood Capital, the project's principal owner, might lease the building as a way of resuscitating a long-delayed project.

A website for the property, which had been inactive, states that a grand opening is planned for late summer 2012. Available units are described as two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom residences ranging from 1,200 to 3,900 square feet.

Rob Vannucchi, director of sales at William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty, who recently toured the building, said he was told the leasing center for the property would open Sept. 6.

Rents on the units range from $4,000 to $9,000 a month, according to Vannucchi. He said one unit was already leased, with that tenant scheduled to move in Oct. 1.

A spokesman at Lincoln Properties, which is handling marketing for Highgrove, confirmed the building would be rental apartments, but declined further comment.

The opening of Highgrove closes a chapter in the story of one of the city's most highly anticipated and significant developments.

Back in 2004, during the zoning approval process, the project was seen as representing the highest scale of luxury ever seen in Stamford. Features included 10-foot-plus high ceilings, crown moldings and semi-private elevators.

Prior to breaking ground in 2007, initial developer Ceebraid-Signal set the city's sales record for highest price per square foot, according to Richard Redniss, a planning consultant who worked on the project.

"The initial success of Highgrove actually sort of jumpstarted the downtown residential market," Redniss said.

But the project was hampered by construction delays as well as the developer's financial difficulties. Buyers eventually sued to get out of their contracts.

In 2009, an investor group led by Starwood Capital effectively purchased Highgrove after purchasing a portfolio of real estate assets owned by the project's construction lender, Corus Bank.

Since that time, the development appeared to be in limbo, with little information trickling from the new owners.

The building was largely finished more than a year ago. Robert DeMarco, the city's chief building official, said his department issued a certificate of occupancy for Highgrove on Aug. 2, 2011.

This past June, DeMarco said he received a building permit request to start renovations on a fourth-floor theater room. It was at the time, he said, that a contractor told him the building was to become rentals. Since issuing the initial permit to start the work, he has not heard back.

On the surface, real estate experts said the decision to switch to rentals makes sense in light of the strong rental market in Stamford.

"Stamford has become a growth market," said Randy Salvatore, a developer who recently opened two new rental buildings downtown. "It's nothing any of us have ever seen in past years. When you walk in downtown Stamford, on any night there's activity."

In June, Salvatore started marketing Parallel41, an apartment project at Washington Boulevard and North Street. As of last week, half of its 124 units are rented. Given that August is traditionally a slow month in real estate, the developer said he felt the numbers reflected a strong showing.

Three weeks ago, Salvatore opened another rental property at 1200 Bedford St., an office-to-housing conversion project. There, six of the 16 units have already been leased.

As a sign of investor confidence, much more rental housing is on the horizon.

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