There’s the old adage about not changing horses midstream, and then at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Beverly West condominium development.
The 21-story project just west of Los Angeles Country Club has been bought and sold, retooled and renamed in the past three years – all while under construction.
It’s nothing less than a poster child for the tribulations that many luxury developments have gone through over the past few years, with an exception: It’s actually getting built.
The project, at 1200 S. Club View Drive, first made a splash in September 2006, when original developer Steve Fifield said the top-floor penthouse would be priced at $14 million, a record at the time. Three years later, the 35-unit project is finally scheduled to open next summer – a year behind schedule.
Fifield Cos., which purchased the development site in 2003, sold the project midstream to Emaar Properties, a large Dubai developer, for $93.2 million in September 2007.
The way Fifield tells it, the sale was a no-brainer. He said that the announcement of several other luxury projects in 2007 created a frenzy in the real estate community. When a broker told him of interest in the project, he jumped at the chance to walk away with profits.
“My Spidey sense told me there was something wrong in the market,” said Fifield, who runs his family’s Chicago development company from Los Angeles. “We saw market absorption of condos starting to slow down. We thought maybe the market had peaked and it was much riskier.”
Indeed, Emaar picked up the property just as the credit markets began to severely constrict. It assigned the development to John Laing Homes Luxury Division, a unit of Newport Beach-based John Laing Homes, which Emaar acquired in 2006.
The way project architect Richard Keating saw it, though, the ownership change was a good thing.
“They actually asked me if there was anything that had been value engineered during the Fifield period that I had concerns about and there were a few things that had to do with landscape quality and the stonework at the base of the building,” said Keating, design partner at Keating Khang Architecture in Pasadena, who was able to make the changes. “They seemed to be taking a longer view and seemed to have deeper resources.”
But the project would suffer a blow when prospective top-floor penthouse buyer Candy Spelling walked away from her purchase, said Keating. Construction hadn’t stop, but it took John Laing Homes about six months to get its sales and marketing operation running. That delay was too long for Spelling and at least one other high net-worth buyer.
Spelling, the wife of late producer Aaron Spelling, would later make headlines with her $47 million purchase of a large penthouse at the rival Century development in Century City. And while John Laing Homes was retooling – they’d also change the name of the project from Club View to Beverly West – the economy began to collapse.
“I’m sure their original idea was: ‘Let’s get this organized and do it right,’ and then they wake up and see the whole world turned upside down,” Keating said. “I just had visions of all the architectural effort we put into this building and to have it sit empty and fall into disrepair, I thought it would ultimately reflect badly on the architect, let alone the owner.”
However, construction continued, but the luxury condo market was all but nonexistent for much of last year as the economy imploded. Then, in February 2009, the project was dealt another blow when John Laing Homes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after sales ground to a halt at its housing developments. Keating said that while construction at Beverly West didn’t stop, there was a slowdown because there wasn’t an “American owner” to oversee development.
Eventually, a U.S. entity called Emaar North America took over management. However, the tumult caused rumors that the project would be mothballed.
Representatives of Emaar were not made available for interviews, but the company provided the Business Journal with a short statement that it was making progress and planned to open the project in the summer. During a visit a month ago by the Business Journal, construction crews could be seen at work.
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