Movin’ On Up

Written By Jennette Smith

City living in the suburbs may sound like a contradiction, but new projects that aim to provide just that report steady sales progress.

Popular downtowns such as Royal Oak, Birmingham and Plymouth boast restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and shopping. Developers say adding more high-end residential housing to the mix has proved to be the right next step.

In Royal Oak, almost 70 percent of the SkyLofts project, off Main Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, has been sold, said Mia Wyant, director of marketing.

Wyant attributes the success to the nearby conveniences and loft architecture, which has been popular with single professionals and “empty-nester” buyers interested in a maintenance-free lifestyle. Varying prices also have helped. The condominiums sell from the mid-$200,000s to the mid-$600,000s.

To make the transition from single-family home to condominium easier, the development features lots of sound insulation between units and flexibility in customizing as the project is constructed, Wyant said.

The 70-unit SkyLofts is scheduled for occupancy beginning in the fall.

“You can’t compare this to what we’ve seen many times before,” she said, a reference to more traditional condominium developments that lack the city edge of a loft.

In Birmingham, The Willits project boasts a similar sales success, although that project is geared toward a higher-spending luxury buyer. The Willits is at Bates and Willits roads.

Paul Robertson, president of developer Robertson Bros. & Co., said only nine units remain unsold, out of 58. About 16 home owners have moved in so far. Prices range from $495,000 to $3 million.

The building features 24-hour security and lots of luxury detail. Buyers have ranged from people with multiple homes to businesspeople who are out of town frequently and need an easy lifestyle, Robertson said.

“It’s really about being convenient,” he said. “You walk to every restaurant. You walk to the movies.”

When asked about the market for high-end city living, Robertson said carefully thought-out projects make sense, although anything over $1 million is a tougher sell.

Mayflower Centre in Plymouth has two of its 11 luxury condominium units under contract. The prices range from $638,000 to $1.2 million, said Lou Sabatini, the independent broker marketing the residential portion of Mayflower. Mayflower’s developer is Downtown Plymouth Ventures L.L.C.

One challenge to the Plymouth project is buyers who are used to single-family homes on larger lots. The Mayflower’s response: Sizable terraces that will allow buyers to plant private gardens and enjoy outside living and entertaining, Sabatini said.

The terraces range from 800 to 1,200 square feet. The units themselves range from 2,765 to 4,962 square feet.

The Mayflower building is complete, and individual units will be finished as they are sold, Sabatani said.

“We’re looking for a good spring,” he said.

Mayflower’s retail success on the bottom floor of the building, at Main Street and Ann Arbor Trail, has come more quickly. Mayflower has a Starbucks, Panera Bread, The Muse art gallery, Julianna’s Day Spa and a jewelry store. A couple of small retail spaces still are available for lease.

The Willits and SkyLofts also have retail. A restaurant is under construction at The Willits, and SkyLofts and its companion building, Main Place, has a slate full of retail tenants.

Main Place, developed by the same Chicago-based companies developing SkyLofts, has a Barnes & Noble, Atlanta Bread, American Home Fitness and Nik’s Blowfish, a steak house and sushi restaurant set to open in June.

Additional tenants lined up for the retail space at the SkyLofts building include a restaurant called Noodles & Co., featuring noodle dishes from around the world, and Cold Stone Creamery, an ice-cream store.

SkyLofts also is negotiating with a candy store, sandwich shop, a day spa and an electronics operator, said David Strosberg, president of Morningside Group, which is developing SkyLofts with HSA Commercial.

Some of the new downtown projects may compete for buyers, although SkyLofts’ Wyant said each buyer seems to have definite preferences about “the city they want to live in and architectural style.”

Jennette Smith: (313) 446-0414,

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