Price cuts bring inquiries, sales for Adesso

When Michael Ambrose, new manager of the prestigious, private Summit Club in downtown Columbia, was looking for a place to live this summer, he settled on Adesso.

The condominium building on south Main Street, in an unprecedented arrangement, is owned by Atlanta developer John Holder and USC's development foundation. It's part of USC's Innovista research campus.

And like Innovista itself, the 110-unit building had been struggling, with only a handful of sales from the time it opened in 2006 through this spring.

But since Holder in May dropped prices about 30 percent, more than 30 condos have sold. Although only 50, or 45 percent, of the building has moved, that's good news for the foundation, which had hoped to attract folks like the Ambroses and to inject life into the live-work-place philosophy of Innovista.

"We finally found our price point," said foundation executive director Jerry Odom. "When we lowered prices, we generated a lot of interest."

Ambrose and his wife, Donna, liked the proximity to the Koger Center and the other amenities downtown offered, so they gave Adesso a look.

They were surprised at the deal they were offered: a one-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot unit for $195,000 with a 3.5 percent adjustable-rate loan, fixed for five years, from NBSC - the building's construction lender.

"It was an incredible value," said Ambrose, who also owns a house in Savannah and a beach house on Fripp Island. "We couldn't have rented a (comparable) apartment for that."

When it was inked in 2005, the relationship between Holder and USC's development foundation was innovative. Hopes were high that a private residential building essentially on campus would attract the young professionals and empty nesters seen as the lifeblood of downtown's resurgence.

Then the bottom dropped out of the market.

"Right when we started selling units, the economy went south, and we didn't generate any interest," Odom said.

To add to the bad news, two private research buildings planned within walking distance of Adesso were not built because Innovista's private developer couldn't get a loan.

"Those buildings were supposed to bring in the young professionals, and it was felt they would like to live across the street" in Adesso, Odom said. "That clearly had something to do with" the slow sales.

So in May, with sales stagnant, Holder ramped up his efforts to move the units, and it worked.

"This dramatic increase in sales is due to a combination of aggressive marketing, hundreds of personal tours of the development and a significant price adjustment," he wrote in an e-mail to The State.

In 2006, the units, which have private balconies, 10-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, were priced between $260,000 and $599,000. Today, they cost between $175,000 and $429,000.

Adesso director of sales Rosemary Bryant said the building has always averaged 10 to 15 visits a week. "But now, they are more serious buyers."

Resident Ambrose said it wasn't just the financial package that convinced the couple to buy. They love to entertain, and their condo has a poolside terrace that features an outdoor Wolf range and room for a garden.

"It's a big space, and we've used it a bunch," he said.

Adesso also features secure parking under the building, a club room and a fitness center.

Nick Kremydas, CEO of South Carolina Realtors, said the price adjustment was typical for the state, where condominium projects boomed in 2004-2005.

"There was too much money available without real strings or oversight," he said. "There was euphoria that things were never going to slow down. Then things overcorrected themselves."

Resort condos on the coast were hardest hit, Kremydas said.

Although the Realtors association doesn't keep records of condo prices, he said the price drop has a lot to do with an 8.3 percent decrease in all residential properties since January.

"Without that, prices would be fairly level," he said. "A $600,000 condo in downtown Columbia? Downtown Columbia is not downtown Charlotte yet. And the brokers I've talked to have said the market couldn't absorb those kinds of units. Prices now are more in line with the marketplace."

The downside, USC's Odom said, is that the price drop means there will be significantly less profit in the building.

"If we sell out, we will break even," he said.

But Odom said that generating downtown residents, injecting life into Innovista and keeping the prime land underneath Adesso for USC were worth the buy-in.

"The (foundation) board still thinks it's a good deal," he said. "It just made a lot of sense from the foundation's point of view to be involved in the venture and the Innovista concept."