Watermark Place, Columbia's only high-rise luxury condominium, is on the receiving end of an attempted resuscitation, taking on new owners, a new look and lower prices.
The 12-story property overlooking Wilde Lake was turned over to NationsBank of Maryland in January after a year in which the real estate market took a nose dive and attempts to sell units at
Watermark floundered badly.
Now the project has reopened, boasting a face lift and new management that has dropped prices of Watermark's 76 units, some of which once sold for as much as $600,000 with all the amenities.
The new owners have shaved 20 percent and more off starting prices, which range from $150,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit to $248,000 for a two-story penthouse. The same units under the previous owner started at $185,000 and $317,000, respectively.
But only 26 units sold under the higher prices, forcing the property's original owner -- General American Real Estate and Development Inc. -- to give up on the project.
On Jan. 23, the real estate firm turned over the 50 unsold units to NationsBank in exchange for a release from liability on a $16 million construction loan.
"This was the most ambitious project we ever undertook," said General American president Earl Glover, who also lives at Watermark. "So, obviously there's a lot of pain."
Glover said Watermark is an example of a project that was conceived during a boom market but wasn't built until the bust. He blamed the "generic" public approval process for delaying construction of the building by one year.
Residents near the Watermark site argued strenuously against the project, forcing the developer to scale back the height and configuration of the building.
Some residents wanted a building that blended better with the low-rise garden apartments and single-family homes near Watermark. Others questioned whether a condominium building that stressed exclusivity was right for Columbia at all.
By the time the building came on line in 1991, the Persian Gulf war had started and "sales just dried up," Glover said.
Now under new management, Watermark is boasting two professionally decorated model units, a separate management office and a larger advertising budget. It reopened to the public last week, and officials at Watermark say two sales contracts have already been signed.
NationsBank has hired the McLean, Va.-based Mayhood Co. to manage Watermark.
Valerie Smith, who oversees Watermark for Mayhood, said that while the project was affected by the real estate slump, the current rebound should help.
Officials are hoping that older couples and "empty nesters," many of whom may have been unable to sell their homes and buy at Watermark during a recession, are now able to make the move.
Amenities such as a doorman, concierge, security system, spa, steam room and porter are designed to attract such buyers.
"You're buying a lifestyle," said Kathy Wiltsey, sales manager at Watermark. "People who buy here don't want maintenance."