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Downtown Victoria townhomes on hold but maybe not for long

By Gabe Semenza
Nov. 13, 2011 at 5:13 a.m.
Updated Nov. 14, 2011 at 5:14 a.m.

Don Elder

WHAT'S NEXT

Elder will re-asses the market for his townhomes project in May. For more about the Balconies on Main, visit BalconiesOnMain.com.

Plans are on hold for the Balconies on Main, a proposed high-end residential development in downtown Victoria.

The project's developer said that although the Crossroads' economy continues to impress, the market for his $300,000 to $500,000 Spanish-styled townhomes does not.

"When we announced this project about two years ago, the economy basically went south," Don Elder, the Victoria developer, said. "The market disappeared for what we had designed."

Still, Elder sounds confident that someday, maybe sooner rather than later, his townhomes will appear along the downtown skyline. Too many positive economic signs point to that inevitability, he said.

Elder first publicly announced the project - and released details about the amenities - in 2009. The $6.5-million gated project boasted 15 three-story townhomes with fireplaces, a community park and even the option of elevators.

Home sizes ranged from 2,645 to 3,023 square feet, although the developer left the door open to smaller units. The wrought-iron balconies and stucco exterior were a nod by Elder to Victoria's Spanish heritage.

By July 2010, however, construction had yet to begin, despite a billboard that noted work was to start months before.

Just months ago, in July, the Victoria Planning Commission granted Elder an extension to file his final plat, pushing his deadline to May. The extension was the second granted to Elder, according to a review of detailed minutes from planning commission meetings. The first was granted in 2009.

Oftentimes developers file the final plat with the construction plans for review by the city.

"We wanted to wait and see what happens in the market," Elder said. "We're just playing the waiting game."

The duration of that wait, however, is unknown at this time. Victoria's downtown, on the other hand, appears to be abuzz with new potential.

Upgrades to sidewalks and utility lines, as well as the addition of new businesses, bodes well for Elder's project, he said. When an area enjoys new businesses, restaurants and allure, people consider moving there, he said.

Mike Sigg, the director of the Victoria Main Street Program, said blossoming downtown districts benefit greatly from housing alternatives.

"I think it does a lot of things - gets people downtown," Sigg said. "People who live downtown use the downtown. We see a vibrant downtown as a place where people live, work, play and invest."

To emphasize the importance of attractive housing in the downtown, Sigg offered two national statistics. People who work downtown spend on average $1,500 per year at the district's businesses, he said. By contrast, those who live downtown spend $9,000 each year there.

"We're not hanging our hat on Don Elder's project or any other particular project," said Sigg, who became the Main Street program director earlier this year. "But certainly new residential adds texture to the neighborhood."

As Elder looks to the future, and the viability of his ambitious project, he eyes the massive amounts of wealth - springing from the Eagle Ford shale - he predicts will fall into South Texas hands.

Much of the influx of today's Eagle Ford shale workers today are attracted to the rental market, and less so to mortgages and high-end homes. But as small businesses grow to meet the shale's demands, as mineral lease and royalty holders continue to amass sizable checks, the market for Elder's expensive homes will only grow, he said.

Elder, after all, can speak with authority on developing and managing high-end projects. He owns Heritage Mark, the North Navarro Street commercial building with ritzy touches. He also developed Hidden Meadows, the scenic and gated community near the Victoria Country Club.

"It's mind-boggling what's going to happen with our economy. We've only barely seen the tip of the iceberg," Elder said. "I'm all positive. The ducks for my Main Street project just are not in a row yet."

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