When Midtowner Brittany Redmond moved out of Woodmont Towers on North Parkway last April, she had a good reason: The high-rise apartment building was being converted to condominiums.
Although the building's management was still honoring tenants' leases, the renovations were disruptive.
"At first, it was just pressure washing the building," the college student says. "Then it became invasive. They were working on the balconies. They used jackhammers to rip up the tile floor in the apartment above us."
But Redmond never imagined that, when she signed a new year-long lease for a Midtown apartment on Belvedere, she'd be moving again within the month — for the very same reason.
"I was there a week and [one of my neighbors] told me that these buildings are being bought and may be converted to condos. I thought, You've got to be kidding me. I haven't even unpacked my boxes yet," she says.
Although a staple of the current downtown real estate market, luxury condominiums are gaining a foothold within Midtown, too. Across the country, condo communities are popular with both young professionals and empty-nesters. And even in an area of town known for its unassuming craftsman bungalows and lack of amenities such as extra closets and bathrooms, developers see opportunity.
Woodmont Towers became the Glenmary at Evergreen in May. The brand-new Pie Factory condos opened in Cooper-Young in June. Park Terrace, a '60s-era high-rise apartment building across from Overton Park, was recently renovated, and its 35 condos will be on the auction block Saturday, August 18th. Belvedere's Ashley Manor is in the process of a condo-conversion. And work just started on two other condo properties near McLean and Peabody.
Dick Willingham is one of the developers behind the Park Terrace project.
"What we have found over the years is that people want to move in-town," Willingham says. "They're tired of the commute. They're tired of coming in from way out of downtown. They want to be in more urban areas."
Willingham and his partner Randy Sprouse were actively looking for conversion opportunities. The out-of-town developers both have family in the area.
"This property came to our attention. It had all the ingredients of success," Willingham says.
The $2.6 million renovation included stainless-steel appliances, a new roof, and retooled kitchens. The choice that has made them stand out the most, however, is that the building's 35 condos will be offered by auction, something Willingham says is becoming more popular. Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Children's Museum of Memphis.
"Years ago, people thought auctions were all distress situations. The world is becoming more familiar with the auction process. There's no question the Internet has opened people's eyes," Willingham says. "Having an auction is a very efficient way of determining what the true market value is."
Other condo properties are still being sold the traditional way.
At the new Glenmary at Evergreen, 190 apartments were converted to 150 condominiums with new cabinetry, granite countertops, gas ranges, and other amenities. Some of the apartments were combined to create large two-bedroom, two-bath units. Prints from the Jack Robinson Gallery on Huling — including Lauren Bacall at a birthday party and a 17-year-old Donald Sutherland — dot the interior.
"We have great traffic through here," says Tommy Prest, a member of the Glenmary sales team. "We have a lot of graduates of Rhodes who are starting jobs. We get a lot of Midtowners who have raised their kids and want to be able to lock the door and leave whenever they want."
Prest says the building isn't competing with the booming downtown condo market.
"We're a convenient location to downtown and East Memphis. We're five minutes from St. Jude and five minutes from Sam Cooper."
Kendall Haney, president of the realty firm selling condos at the Pie Factory, agrees.
"I think it's more affordable than downtown, and a great alternative to downtown," he says. "It's really a different market. ... [Buyers] still get what they want. They're still in a neighborhood that offers restaurants within walking distance. The infrastructure is all there. And if they work downtown, it's still convenient."
The condos might also sustain aging neighborhoods by pumping them with new investment.
"I think it encourages other people in the neighborhood to improve their property, as well," says Haney. "It gives everybody hope that the neighborhood is going in the right direction and that people are putting money into it."
Park Terrace's Willingham agrees: "Whenever a developer comes into the area, blighted or not, it creates energy for the rest of the community to clean up."
But if Midtown is going condo, 21-year-old Brittany Redmond wants to stay out of the way.
"I knew it was happening downtown ...," she says. "I just hope it doesn't happen again."