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Recession doesn't stand in way of luxury condo complex Ovation's sales

Nearly all condo units at the Ovation complex on Beach Drive have sold at the original 2006 asking prices of $1.2 million or more.

LARA CERRI | Times (2010)

Nearly all condo units at the Ovation complex on Beach Drive have sold at the original 2006 asking prices of $1.2 million or more.

ST. PETERSBURG — Deep discounts have driven sales of new condominiums in recent years, which makes what's happening at the Ovation complex on the downtown waterfront distinctive.

The developer, JMC Communities, has managed to sell all but four of the 45 units at the original 2006 asking price.

JMC CEO Mike Cheezem attributes at least part of that success to the fact that the price — units start at $1.2 million — is so high.

"The well-to-do are still doing very well, and they just simply have not been affected (by this recession)," Cheezem said.

The front door of each 3,660-square-foot condo, accessible by semiprivate elevator, opens up to gleaming wood floors, high ceilings and almost completely wall-to-wall windows, providing a 180-degree view of the water and downtown St. Petersburg. With three bedrooms and 31/2 bathrooms, the units each have multiple terraces, at least one full dining room and a study.

A concierge team, available 24 hours a day and based in the two-story lobby, is on call to help residents with everything from security to changing a light bulb to sending out dry cleaning.

The fourth floor of the 26-story tower boasts a social space for the residents to host parties or other events as well as a pool and cabana deck, fitness center and conference room.

The six penthouse apartments have all sold. The most expensive went a year ago for about $4.6 million.

The last condo sold went for about $2.2 million on Jan. 12, and the complex, located on Beach Drive, is expected to sell out within the next two or three months.

But despite the ability of most of his clients to pay the high prices, Cheezem doesn't deny that he felt the effects of the market crash. While he didn't have to offer discounts on Ovation's condos, he did have to get creative with financing and offer "incentives" to persuade some potential buyers.

In two cases he bought houses in trade, which have since sold. For some buyers, Cheezem offered to pay taxes on the condos until they could sell their houses. He matched clients with real estate agents, covered maintenance fees and offered decorator allowances.

"We really had to listen to each individual owner and pay attention to their needs," Cheezem said. "We did some pretty unusual things."

For instance, when one potential buyer was concerned that the amount of closet space wouldn't be enough for his wife, Cheezem created another penthouse — with 400 square feet of closet space — by joining and remodeling two of the standard-sized condos on the same floor.

Cheezem said lender Bank of America didn't force him to sell units at discount prices. Instead, it game him an 18-month extension on a $75 million loan.

Steve Cohn, a Florida region executive at Bank of America, said JMC's knowledge of the market and success with selling luxury properties encouraged the bank's trust.

"Ovation is a premier downtown condominium project with little competition at that price point, and JMC knows how to navigate through tough markets," Cohn said in an e-mail.

Gerald Hogan, a resident of an Ovation penthouse since 2009, said that when his youngest daughter went off to college, he and his wife wanted to make a lifestyle change and move from their house on Snell Isle.

They wound up at Ovation, where JMC offered some creative financing to help them purchase the condo for $4.2 million.

"It's a bit like living in a really nice resort hotel," Hogan said. "It's well thought out. JMC has built so many of these things and they really did a great job of getting inside the head of the would-be purchaser."

Recession doesn't stand in way of luxury condo complex Ovation's sales 01/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 3:31am]
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