Home > Uncategorized > Houston’s latest condo tower earns bragging rights in tough times

Houston’s latest condo tower earns bragging rights in tough times

By Ralph Bivins

Everybody wants the latest fashions, the newest car and the most innovative i-gadget from Apple.In marketing, being new is golden. Madison Avenue has proven that “new and improved” is the best label you can put on a product.

In that regard, the Highland Tower condo building is looking good. Highland Tower touts itself as “Houston’s only luxury condominium high-rise under construction at the beginning of 2010.”

That means that Highland Tower will be able to claim to be the newest condo tower in Houston for a long time. With the economy in the doldrums, it could be two to three years – maybe longer – before another high-rise residential building is completed here. Rest assured, we won’t see another new residential tower breaking ground for awhile.

The first residents are expected to be moving into Highland Tower in April. The 16-story tower is located on Bancroft Lane between San Felipe and Westheimer, close to Highland Village shopping center.

Selling in the headwind of the recession, Highland Tower has sold 35 percent of its 93 units so far. The buyers are primarily empty nesters, relocating professionals in the energy industry and affluent people from Mexico.


Some of the buyers are spending significant dollars to get larger, customized units. “They are buying two and putting them together to make larger homes,“ says Vicki Ramsey, sales director at Highland Tower. She expects young buyers to flock to the project – where one-bedrooms start at $298,000 – later this year when buyers can see the completed building.

Mapquest to highrise

Just In Time

Pelican Builders started the development just before the national economy went on its great descent.

“We started in July of ‘08. That’s when we broke ground,“ says Derek Darnell, vice president of Houston-based Pelican Builders. “Six months later, it might not have happened.”

Two months after construction had begun on Highland Towers, Lehman Brothers  – on Sept. 15, 2008 – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to plunge the nation’s weakened economy into a rapid nosedive.

In today’s market, even experienced equity-rich developers with can’t-miss business plans have difficulty getting financing. Many banks won’t extend financing to a developer even if a project is substantially pre-sold or pre-leased.

“That was a big deal of why this building happened, we were fortunate,” Darnell says. “July was just before the fall. We were fortunate enough to close the loan just in time.”

Financing for the project was provided primarily by Whitney Bank, which has been the lender for a number of Pelican Builders townhome and mid-rise residential projects for many years.

“We have a great relationship with Whitney Bank. They’ve done every deal we’ve done in the last 10 years,” Darnell says. “Had it been a new relationship with a new bank, it might not have happened.”

Design Sells

Pelican Builders turned to Houston architect Scott Ziegler of ZCA Residential and Ziegler Cooper Architects for the design of Highland Tower. The exterior of the building is wrapped in light red brick with bluish glass and a front elevation of metallic paneling. The homes have floor-to-ceiling glass and corner units feature great wrap-around views of Houston’s skyline. Atop the parking garage will be a 17,000-square-foot rooftop terrace with a putting green and a swimming pool lined with palms.

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