Putting on the Ritz

Developers of pricey high-rise condominiums are selling Clayton as a place for the rich and famous. So far, out-of-towners aren't buying.

Cliff Bowman, president of the Vancouver-based firm in charge of marketing the condos, predicted in January that with the aid of the Web site, 25 percent of buyers would come from out of town or out of state. On a similar FRAM project in Dallas, out-of-towners snapped up nearly 50 percent of the units.

So why shouldn't a project in Clayton sell a quarter of its units to outsiders?

Why not, indeed? After all, "Clayton is at the heart of the good life in the St. Louis region," a region that is one of the "Top Ten Best Places to Work and Live," according to a magazine advertisement for Fountain Place.

Mike Gorman

"The avid shopping enthusiast and passionate cuisine connoisseur will be more than satisfied within the Clayton city limits," the ad claims, but if for some reason someone did want to venture outside Clayton, this Xanadu on the Innerbelt is near every possible attraction: sports stadiums, the Arch, Powell Symphony Hall, casinos, Forest Park, Six Flags.

OK, so it is a bit exaggerated. Doesn't matter -- nobody from out of town bought it anyway.

No one.

According to members of the Fountain Place development team, 60 percent of the units are sold, even though construction hasn't yet started, but not one condo has been sold to a buyer from out of town.

That means all of the high-priced-condo developers in Clayton are competing for the same group of local buyers, "people from West County," Saur says. Unconvinced that there are enough such buyers to go around, he canceled plans for the Monaco.

Saur says he put the project "on hold" to wait and see what happens with Fountain Place and the Plaza. "There is no question there is a very strong market for people wanting to live in Clayton," he says. "There is a question of how broad it is and how long it will take to absorb these units."

Conrad began the ultraluxury-condo craze in 1996, when the company began developing the Residence at 800 South Hanley, an eight-story building that was the first high-rise condominium built in Clayton in more than 20 years. The 40 units, priced from $650,000-$1.5 million, didn't sell out until 1999. How long would it take for more than seven times as many units to sell?

Over at the Plaza, developed by strip-mall mavens Michael Staenberg and Stanley Kroenke, people also seem a little antsy about that question. Taking a little dig at her cross-street competition, Anne Ryan, real-estate agent for the Plaza, says the "beauty of our project is that it is a fact. They are working like crazy over there."

Work is under way at the Plaza, despite lagging sales, but it is work on the office building and parking garage that also are part of the project.

It is a not-so-subtle reminder that in June, someone planted a story in the St. Louis Business Journal that FRAM and Porta-McCurdy were pulling the plug on Fountain Place and directing buyers across the street to Kroenke and Staenberg's project. It wasn't true.

A major investor, insurance company SunAmerica, pulled out of Fountain Place when that company was taken over by an even larger insurer, AIG. That sent FRAM and Porta looking for new investors. Among those they contacted were Kroenke, who is part owner of the St. Louis Rams, and Staenberg. Then the owners of the Ritz-Carlton signed on to the project.

Though momentarily infuriated by the Business Journal article, the Fountain Place developers decided to act magnanimously. They can afford to: The contracts they already have on hand are worth more than they expect to spend building the place.

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