Downtown Fort Worth set for another growth spurt

The view from the balcony of one of the latest apartments downtown, Ed Bass's luxury units in The Cassidy, on Friday, January 23, 2015.
The view from the balcony of one of the latest apartments downtown, Ed Bass's luxury units in The Cassidy, on Friday, January 23, 2015. Star-Telegram

Ten years ago, a young Fort Worth couple waited anxiously for word that they’d be the first to move into The Tower, the $72 million redo of the former Bank One office high-rise, which was badly damaged by a tornado several years earlier.

They were among hundreds who stood in line at a temporary office a few blocks from the site for the chance to buy a condo in the top half of the 37-story building or lease an apartment in the bottom half. Turnout was so great that developer Tony Landrum, principal of TLCurban in Fort Worth, decided to turn the entire project into condos.

“I remember how big of a task that was and all the responsibility we took on,” Landrum said. “It turned out great. It was an amazing time.”

All eyes were on The Tower, downtown’s first residential high-rise. Units were snapped up by residents, and some have now changed hands three times.

At the time, downtown living options were limited, and The Tower’s success set off a building boom that would spread to the near south and west sides. While the recession slowed sales and left some projects in foreclosure, an improved economy in the last couple of years has spurred a rebound, including sales of million-dollar units.

Apartment development is also picking up again, particularly on the near south side, where about a dozen projects with more than 1,150 units are planned.

Sundance Square, which spurred downtown living with its Sanger Lofts and Sundance West apartments dating to the late 1980s, recently completed six penthouse apartments in its newest building, The Cassidy, at 407 Throckmorton St. And Lincoln Property Co. just completed Trinity District, a 256-unit addition to its communities in Trinity Bluff, on the northeast edge of downtown along historic Samuels Avenue. Lincoln began building downtown in 2005 and with its three projects has about 930 rental units.

Apartment occupancy downtown was 96.5 percent at the end of 2014, compared with 95.2 percent at the end of 2013.

Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said the city’s latest Strategic Action Plan calls for adding about 7,500 apartments and condos downtown. The appeal of living in the central city grew rapidly in the past decade, and the next decade could be just as big, he said.

Several apartment projects are planned and a couple of others, Hunter Plaza and Pinnacle Bank Place, are under construction.

“All the deals have to happen,” Taft said. “I predict over the next nine years, we will have to re-evaluate what our goal is because we will have overshot it dramatically.”

High demand downtown

Many of those who have decided to live downtown are young professionals. At the end of 2011, nearly 32 percent of downtown residents were ages 25 to 34, and nearly 30 percent were 45 to 59, according to the latest data from Downtown Fort Worth Inc. The median household income was $83,000 for apartment renters and $125,000 for condo owners.

Arrie Mitchell, research director for Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said 2014 was one of the strongest years yet for condo sales. In the fourth quarter, 20 downtown residential units sold, twice as many as the year-ago quarter. The average sale price jumped to $219,645, up from $205,230 in 2013.

Realtors Karen Hunn and Debbie Hunn, who focus on the downtown market, said that the supply is getting thin and that the price of some high-end units has soared.

“There’s a waiting list for units in The Tower,” Karen Hunn said. About 13 units are on the market, compared with dozens just a few years ago.

Initially, penthouses in The Tower were marketed at more than $1 million, a price that few believed downtown Fort Worth would ever command. But two years later, a unit sold for $1.2 million. And in 2009, another sold for $1.6 million.

By 2012, a condo in the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, 1301 Throckmorton St., sold for $4.5 million, believed to be the highest price paid in the downtown market, according to the Realtors Multiple Listing Service. Robert Rowling, who owns the Omni chain, put his 8,000-square-foot unit on the market last year for $9 million. It has since been taken off.

And the penthouse at the Neil P. Anderson Building recently sold for $2.85 million, the database shows.

Some projects that struggled during the downturn are turning the corner.

At Museum Place — another Landrum project at West Seventh Street and University Drive, across from the Modern Art Museum — condo sales are picking up. During the recession, developers obtained permission from their lender to lease units to get through the slow period. Now they’re selling again. About 14 of the project’s 38 units have sold.

“When the recession hit, we didn’t have much control,” Landrum said. “It took a while to get through it.”

Le Bijou, a 14-unit condo project at Sixth and Jones streets, went back to the lender in 2009, with only three units sold. By 2012, half were sold at discounts, but last year, one sold for $1 million.

At Villa de Leon, a 23-unit project along Samuels Avenue, 15 were priced at more than $1 million. That project was foreclosed on in 2012, with only three sold. The lender sold a few more, but in early 2013, a Florida real estate firm acquired the luxury development’s 17 remaining units. That firm, Patten Sales & Marketing, greatly reduced prices, and now only one remains available at half the original asking price, according to a recent real estate ad.

And at Montgomery Plaza, the redeveloped former department store and warehouse property near Trinity Park on West Seventh Street, the final 144 units were foreclosed on in 2011. In early February, the developer said it was 95 percent sold and down to nine units.

“Last year was a phenomenal year,” Debbie Hunn said. “It was huge.”

Allison Hayden, sales director at the Omni, said 31 condos sold in 2014. That was about as many units as were sold during the first few years of the project.

Initially, the Omni had 86 units, but because buyers put together two units, the number is now 70. The developers knew the concept of the project, which offers hotel amenities to residents, was a little ahead of the market in downtown Fort Worth. That has changed.

“We were busy last year. Fort Worth is exploding,” she said.

At the end of 2014, the downtown market had 927 condos and town homes built, with only 11 under construction.

Kirk Williams, managing director at Dallas-based Cypress Equities, who helped develop the mixed-use West 7th project on the near west side, said the 540 apartments there stay about 95 percent leased. Columbus Realty Partners developed the multifamily units.

Despite the popularity of the restaurants and bars, the residential component of West 7th likely could have worked on its own, Williams said. That became evident by late 2009, a time that Williams describes as “not ideal” for retail.

“The housing didn’t matter,” Williams said. But the West Seventh corridor “became an obvious in-fill site, not unlike the Uptown area of Dallas. It’s amazing the transformation. It’s what the market wanted and we just listened.”

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST