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Archives for December 8, 2014

Christmas Tree Shopping Tips with Armstrong Garden Center

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To small-biz support: Cheers

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Dental school condos may top $10 million

Rendering of The Pacific, now under construction at Webster and Sacramento.

The Pacific, now under construction at Webster and Sacramento Streets.


When the developers and designers of The Pacific were hunting for inspiration and ideas for San Francisco’s plushest and priciest condominium complex, they looked east and heavenward.

The team transforming the former University of the Pacific dental school at 2121 Webster flew to New York and swarmed over 96-story 432 Park Avenue, Manhattan’s tallest residential building, where full-floor penthouses a quarter-mile in the sky are selling for up to $95 million.

A squadron of local executives and architects also looked into the 82-story Four Seasons Hotel and Residences under construction in New York’s eternally hip TriBeCa neighborhood, where the asking price for a modest 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom condo on the 60th floor is $5 million. And they  checked into boutique hotels including the five-star Bulgari in London and Milan to see firsthand how moneyed and discriminating guests are pampered.

But they didn’t stop there. Trumark Urban, The Pacific’s builder-developer in the estimated $158 million venture, and financial partner Hillmark, chaired by Dallas property magnate Ross Perot Jr., pored over a list of San Francisco’s most successful residential real estate brokers and invited 50 of the top producers to join a board of advisors.

At an invitation-only cocktail party at Spruce restaurant on Sacramento Street and in a follow-up detailed questionnaire, Trumark Urban mined a mother lode of informational nuggets and advice on what the city’s wealthy and worldly would like to see — and might buy — in an opulent Pacific Heights condominium building.

Trumark Urban’s curating, wooing and polling is a first for a developer, according to several brokers on the advisory board. “In my experience in San Francisco, no one has ever reached out to us as a group and asked for our advice and feedback,” says Nina Hatvany, a broker with Pacific Union who was San Francisco’s number one residential sales agent from 2008 to 2013.

Trumark Urban also pitched The Pacific to the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and got an endorsement and a rave review.

“It met our guidelines squarely,” says the group’s executive director Tim Golen. “It’s smart growth, smart urbanism and a terrific addition to a part of the city that doesn’t get much new housing. I must say Trumark Urban really gets it.”

But the real stroke of marketing genius came when Trumark Urban’s velvety-smooth managing director Arden Hearing gave the Pacific Heights Residents Association’s board of directors a show-and-tell of what he planned to create in their backyard. While homeowner groups are historically the natural enemy of developers, Trumark Urban got the red carpet treatment.

“They made a presentation to us on exactly what they were going to do early on, and as their plans changed, they came back and gave us an update,” recalls Greg Scott, president of the group. “We think it’s a great addition to the neighborhood. We need housing. We need more off-street parking. We think the merchants will be thrilled.”

Yet many important details of The Pacific are still unknown. No one, including the broker advisory board members, has seen renderings of the floor plans, examples of the finishes, a complete list of amenity costs or a price sheet for the homes, including the monthly homeowner’s fee.


So far, only the basics of the project have been unveiled. Among them: The dental school building and land was sold to Trumark Urban and Hillmark for $50-something million. The partnership beat out two dozen other developers that wanted to convert the prized property and its prime location into office buildings, rental apartments and other mixed uses, says Daniel Cressman, executive managing director of Newmark Knight Cornish Carey’s San Francisco office, who orchestrated the school building sale for University of the Pacific.

The dental school, which has roots dating back to 1896, when it was known as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of San Francisco, has been relocated to a new campus in a former Crocker Bank data center at 155 Fifth Street that Cressman found.

Trumark Urban and San Francisco’s Handel Architects will create a total of 76 large condos with 12- to 14-foot ceilings. The main building, with two new floors on top, a glass and steel facade and four levels of secured underground parking with 100 spaces, will house flats and triplexes of one, two, three and four bedrooms ranging from 1,096 to 3,136 square feet — plus up to four 3,625-square-foot penthouses.

The school’s outdoor parking lot will become the landscaped and terraced site of 10 three-bedroom, 2,301-square-foot attached garden townhouses with private back yards that will reportedly look faintly Victorian to blend in with the neighborhood.

The Pacific’s promoters also promise an array of amenities, services and features — including a fitness center opening onto a private yoga garden. A personal concierge, a valet and a private security detail can be ordered. And the staff will include doormen, a building concierge and parking valets — expenses to be covered by the monthly homeowner’s fee.

A fact sheet on the complex spells out a resident’s lounge described as a “quiet hideaway that opens to a terrace of landscaping, outdoor fireplaces.” A separate business lounge and a furnished hospitality suite will be available for residents and guests who want the equivalent of a hotel conference room for brainstorming and entertaining.

Another fact is also certain: There will be no units for low-income buyers at The Pacific. The city offers new housing developers three options: Price 12 percent of the homes in the complex at below market rate; build a larger percentage at some other location; or make a 20 percent contribution to the Mayor’s Office of Housing to help the city build affordable housing. Trumark Urban opted to donate the 20 percent and will reportedly write a check for $5.2 million to the city.

Paul Wermer, a former director of the residents association, says Trumark Urban got off cheap. “The developer had a wonderful opportunity to make this space unique with inclusionary housing,” says Wermer, who is now a member of the Japantown Task Force. “But now the developer is contributing a financial load of the cost to build that is vastly less than if it was 20 percent of the value.”

Construction, which started in August, will not be completed until 2016 and sales will not start until June 2015.

Trumark Urban is in no hurry. The longer it takes, the bigger the payday as buyer demand for luxury housing continues to drive sale prices skyward.

The Mark Co. just released its closely watched condominium price index claiming the cost of new high-end condos rose 16 percent in a year and jumped 4 percent to $1,170 per square foot from September to October. Even parts of the city that are not considered prime locations are fetching towering prices.

Tishman-Speyer, for example, which is building the massive four-building, 656-unit Lumina luxury high-rise condo project South of Market — with a long list of enticing amenities including valet parking and a monthly homeowner’s fee of around $1,000 — is commanding a selling price of up to $2,000 per square foot, with more than 100 sales already buttoned up.

The Pacific has gone through various incarnations and the final design has still not been cast in concrete, says Hearing. “In our original studies, we had as few as 60 and as many as 120 units, but we’re at 76 now. Our current plan calls for four penthouses, but we’re thinking of combining them to two.”

While a certain amount of carping is always expected when change disrupts a neighborhood, The Pacific’s ceremonial groundbreaking last month was a lovefest, with city officials, developers, architects and many of the chosen brokers swinging sledgehammers at chunks of interior walls as flutes of champagne were proffered and canapes passed.

Attendees at the groundbreaking were bullish about the new condominium project and willing to chime in on the guessing game of who the ultimate buyers might be.

“There are people who love the Fillmore and don’t want to live downtown,” says Lynn Sedway, a real estate specialist who, with her husband Paul, left the neighborhood and bought a condominium above the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street. They’ve since moved back to the neighborhood.


Paul Sedway, a retired urban planner, sees The Pacific as a magnet for youngish technology executives, venture capitalists and private equity firm higher-ups who have hit it big in the markets or via a buyout. He says another group of potential buyers is people over 60 who prefer to be close to the neighboring medical offices and hospital — just in case.

Coldwell Banker residential broker Rohulla Habibi, who sits on the Trumark advisory board, expects all-cash foreign buyers to find The Pacific a discreet, desirable address.

Trumark Urban has hired Polaris Pacific, which is also peddling condos for a handful of other new and planned condo projects in the city, as its sales and marketing rep. However, the 50 advisory board members have been promised a “first look” pre-sale for their clients and prospects before Polaris can jump in with its marketing firepower.

The hand-picked army of brokers might be their own best clients.

“Every realtor who is involved in this project wants to buy in there,” says Caroline Werboff, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty. “Realtors are talking about buying units for themselves,” adds Barbara Callan, who with her son Robert Callan Jr. forms a sales team for McGuire Real Estate.

Nevertheless, the mystery still surrounding The Pacific is off-putting to some. “They have elevations but we don’t know the configurations, no one has seen the floor plans or samples of the finishes. No one has seen anything in print,” contends Werboff. “They asked for our input, but they never gave us feedback on their decisions. It’s mysterious, but it’s on purpose.”

Overall, advisory board brokers seem to agree The Pacific, when completed, will be San Francisco’s trophy residential address. Observes Hatvany: “The location is great — close to Fillmore Street, not some sterile South of Market environment. They were careful to provide larger units,” she says. “And the views are lovely — they’re not bridge to bridge, but some units have views of the Golden Gate and the bay, and you also look over urban and landscaped park scenes that are very attractive. Plus, they have thought about desirable amenities. So unless they make a mistake on the interior finishes, they will have done everything right.”

Callan also says she “doesn’t see any negatives” in recommending The Pacific. “They are taking their time and carefully planning everything. It’s sort of like the Millennium Tower, where you have luxury living,” she says, referring to the 60-story condo building South of Market. “And here you have a neighborhood feeling,” she adds.

Werboff is a bit more skeptical. She says she and some other brokers are concerned that “San Francisco is becoming the next New York City and these prices could really be out of sight.”

If the sampling of brokers is correct, The Pacific, with its 76 homes and sharply escalating demand for a regal, how-may-we-serve-you lifestyle prices for some units, could shatter the city’s record for newly constructed condominium homes: $3,000 a square foot. Or higher.

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Batavia downtown advocate Joe Marconi dies at 88

Of late, Joe Marconi was a frail man.

But the Batavia man didn’t let complications from diabetes stop him from speaking out about what he thought downtown needed — as strongly now as he did when he came to town 40 years ago.

Marconi, 88, died Thursday.

“Joe arrives, and right away Joe is full of ideas and excitement and energy,” Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke recalled. “I would give him a lot of the credit for spreading around his energy and enthusiasm for taking on a new concept for what Batavia could be.”

Over the years, it meant pushing for more off-street parking for downtown businesses, better streets, wider sidewalks, benches for shoppers, landscaping, brighter lighting and a second bridge.

And he expressed his views in no uncertain terms, Schielke said.

“He was not afraid to put his energy, and especially his money, into it,” Schielke said.

Marconi, a clothing salesman, bought the Anderson Block Building and a clothing shop in the mid-1970s.

“He just fell in love with Batavia,” said his son, Michael.

He then bought the 1886 Gammon Corner house, a former funeral home. He also invested for awhile in the building that had the original Batavia library, bought the First National Bank building and houses along Route 25. He bought the stable behind Gammon Corner and turned it into shops and restaurants. The funeral home became a store on the first floor, and the second floor became the home for him and his second wife, Addie, when he moved to Batavia in the mid-1980s.

He continued to work for a clothing company until he retired about 15 years ago, Michael said.

“He loved the little towns of America,” he added.

“What we have to do all over Batavia is have something and make it a little better than we found it,” Joe Marconi said in 2000 after winning a Batavia Chamber of Commerce award for improvements he made to one of his properties.

Even as his health deteriorated, Joe Marconi continued to speak out.

This summer and fall, an assistant wheeled him and his oxygen tank up to the microphones at city council and school board meetings so he could speak about his latest issue: the cost of electricity in Batavia.

In August, he filed a class-action lawsuit with several other people, accusing consultants who advised Batavia about investing in energy from a coal-fired electricity plant of misrepresenting the costs, among other things. His goal was to get Batavia out of the deal, or at least have the energy company pay part of utility customers’ bills.

“If he was passionate about something, he spoke up about it,” Michael said. That may have come from his upbringing, as one of seven children in an immigrant family. “He was fighting for the people all the time,” Michael said.

“He learned how to survive because he had no choice,” Michael said. Joe and his first wife, Doris, moved to Chicago because of his work as a clothing salesman.

But downtown was his main cause. He was one of the initial members of the Batavia MainStreet downtown support organization. He supported the idea of building a second bridge over the Fox River and tried to get the U.S. Postal Service to open a branch office in downtown, after it moved the Batavia office to Randall Road.

He said tearing down the Batavia Junior High School to make way for a new library across the street from Gammon Corner would ruin the character of the intersection. The library board’s decision to put the entrance off a parking lot, instead of Batavia Avenue, vexed him, and he lobbied for a Batavia Avenue entrance for years after the library was built.

“He was the voice of enthusiasm and broad ideas. He made no bones about it,” Schielke said. “He was a citizen who made a difference.”

His son, David, praised Joe, in a 1998 interview with the Daily Herald about his career as a screenwriter. Joe had given David free rein over the family video camera at age 8, fueling David’s interest in films. David went on to write the Will Smith movie “Enemy of the State,” and cowrote “Live Free or Die Hard.”

“My father was always incredibly important. He’s been behind me 100 percent. For that I will always be grateful,” David Marconi said.

Visitation for Marconi will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Moss, Main Street and Batavia Avenue. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 2300 W. Main St., Batavia.

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Uptown plan draws on collaboration with merchants, big employers

RACINE — When Jose Palomo and Guy Singer were looking for a place to relocate Singer’s business seven years ago they wanted bigger space, but also something with an industrial feel.

They found it at 1514 Junction Ave. in Uptown.

About a year ago — after rehabbing the interior of the building and refurbishing part of the façade — the partners and owner-operators of Picasso Vino Wine Paint Studio and Guy Singer Dance Studio began talking with their neighbors about transforming a stretch of crumbling parking lots on the street into a neighborhood garden. Those conversations eventually led them to City Hall, where they learned how they could be part of a plan already in the works for the area.

Today the men are just two of a handful of business owners in Uptown — from small merchants to major corporate employers like SC Johnson and Twin Disc — that have signed on to help with the new plan aimed at revitalizing the business district. Instead of targeting outside investment, the plan focuses heavily on those businesses; concentrating on what they and their workers want and what they can bring to the table.

Many plans

Reviving Uptown has been a goal for city leaders for decades, but not much has changed in the neighborhood over the years. Many new businesses — most of them short-lived restaurants and nightclubs — have opened and closed, leaving behind the empty storefronts they hoped to revive.

Take away a few businesses such as Corner House, Vision Clinic and Easterday Office Equipment Supply, and what you have left is mostly a few service businesses and a large handful of antique and resale shops. The last few years have brought in some new businesses, including the Uptown Pub Grill on Junction Avenue, the Uptown China restaurant on Washington Avenue, and Ayra’s gas station development, but the neighborhood’s challenges — the blighted warehouses, the vacant storefronts, and motorists that zoom past without looking at stores or watching for pedestrians — remain.

Drafted by Madison-based planning firm Vandewalle Associates, the 41-page Uptown Neighborhood Strategic Development Plan calls for change, but also for capitalizing on the area’s assets: its vacant buildings, existing businesses and residents and the nearly 5,000 employees who work within the plan’s study area — a swath of land bordered by Eighth Street to the north, Grand Avenue to the east, Durand Avenue to the south and Kearney Avenue to the west.


If approved by the City Council, this latest vision for the neighborhood would be the third redevelopment plan for the area in 10 years.

What makes Mayor John Dickert confident that this plan will gain traction where others have failed is the scope of the plan, the amount of study that went into formulating it, and the cooperation of the neighborhood’s employers, residents and small business owners.

The project management team that worked with Vandewalle planners and City Development staff to draft the plan includes representatives from Twin Disc and SC Johnson. The companies also helped fund the $98,000 study and plan.

That kind of participation is not only critical, given the cost of such plans, Dickert said, but it also creates a better atmosphere for success.

“When you go as deep as we have, and you take the time to talk to people and find what they are really thinking about, rather than telling them what you are going to do,” Dickert said. “I think that’s what draws more and more people into the results and the solving of the problem.”

Junction Triangle and Ajax

Sitting in their studio at 1514 Junction Ave., Palomo and Singer said they feel there is a tangible energy in the neighborhood. It’s the kind of momentum that they have been seeking since settling in Uptown.

The plan for the Junction Triangle is just one example of that momentum, they said. The project calls for transforming the land — a mostly blighted collection of battered parking lots owned by three separate businesses — into a paved parking area, and green space with urban gardens and a public gathering space.

They are also excited to learn about a developer’s proposal to turn the vacant Ajax building in the 1500 block of Clark Street into a 74-unit apartment complex.

“We are here for the long haul,” Singer said. “We want to see a change in the neighborhood. I think it just takes one person or two people to start making a change and then other people jump on board.”

Although a big project, like the potential redevelopment of the Ajax building, could be what’s needed to jump start serious investment in the area, Palomo said he’s ready to do his part to move things forward.

“Regardless if anything happens, I am still doing my parking lot,” he said. “This has to get done. We just have to keep pushing.”

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