Urban dwellers seek out luxury living in Valley downtowns

April 2005
By Kathleen Davidson
The Business Journal

The call for urban living space has been building to a crescendo that is being heard - and seen - across our desert horizon, as more and more young professionals and active retirees seek the ease and energy associated with "downtown living."

Local residents are rapidly stepping up to concepts formerly associated with such elite areas as Manhattan's Upper East Side and Chicago's Gold Coast. During the past two years, hundreds of Valley homeowners have traded single-family suburban homes for a high-rise, cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Those in the upper stratosphere of affluence are drawn to the all-inclusive, lap-of-luxury living awaiting them at Esplanade Place in the prestigious Camelback Corridor, as well as the North Scottsdale equivalent - The Landmark at Kierland.

Others living on the rise have opted for the unique and practical Lofts at Orchidhouse on Mill Avenue in Tempe and Artisan Village in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Borrowing from both the posh and practical is the five-story Third Avenue Lofts in the center of Old Town Scottsdale and the trail-blazer, nine-story Hayden Square condos.

Poised to join the skyline as this urban renaissance expands are the 12-story Residences at 2211 Camelback and the Centerpoint Condominiums, 22-story double towers designed as a mixed-use development in metropolitan Tempe.

Visionaries such as Hank Levkoff and his wide, Buddie, who got in on the "ground floor" of upscale, high-rise living in Phoenix, agree that it is "an idea whose time has come." The New York natives are retired and desired a maintenance-free lifestyle not afforded by their Scottsdale Home.

"This is brand new for us and we love it," say Hank Levkoff.

The couple's secure, carefree way of life began two years ago when they moved into one of the penthouses in Esplanade Place at Camelback Road and 24th Street. Offering the ultimate in luxury living, purchase prices for the 56 residence today range from $800,000 to $2.7 million. The condos range in size from 2,400 to 4,250 square feet.

Considered a community within itself, the elegant tower provides a broad spectrum of amenities, including: a porte-cochere entrance with valet parking; a secured underground garage; a multilevel, 24-hour security program with biometric thumbprint recognition at the tower's main entrance.

Once inside, privileged residents enjoy state-of-the-art fitness facilities with sauna, steam and massage rooms; a 1,100-square-foot clubroom with baby grand piano, where the Sunday socials take place; and a fully equipped business center complete with secretarial services and conference room. The spectacular roof-top features a dramatic negative-edge pool, spa and sun deck.

The pampering continues with complete concierge assistance for everything from laundry, travel, dining and entertainment arrangements to grocery shopping, pet grooming, plant care and auto detailing services - all available at the touch of the owner's phone.

While each home reflects the owner's taste, many enjoy the Dacor appliance package that was offered by the developers, Geoffrey H. Edmunds and The Pivotal Group. Other "basics" consist of inset travertine and marble flooring, granite countertops, expertly finished alder wood cabinetry and lavishly designed baths with recessed steam showers and resort-style whirlpools. Satellite and cable television as well as high-speed Internet access also are standard. The monthly homeowners' association assessment also covers sewer/trash service and natural gas.

Panoramic views of the city come with the pack in the 13th floor setting of the Levkoff's beautifully appointed 3,3550 square foot home, where dual balconies afford a 270-degree vista. Personal touches include unique leather flooring in the entryway (a la T.Cook's smoking room); inviting furnishings in an open, airy great room; 2-foot-tall statues of the Blues Brothers showcased in a niche in the living room; a variety of artwork gathered during their travels; and additional creature comforts in the form of raised fixtures and head flooring in the master bath.

"It's a wonderful way of life, and we're living in the center of everything we do," Levkoff says. With the Ritz-Carlton Hotel next door and the Biltmore Fashion Park across the street, many diving and entertainment opportunities are available within walking distance. In addition, downtown is a 10-minute drive for theater dates and attendance at fund-raising event.

Just one block away is 2211 Camelback, another high-end condo development that mirrors Esplanade Place in amenities.

Tania Buchanan, a luxury urban specialist with Cambrige Properties, is marketing the property with partner, Keith Mishkin. The duo also sold residences at Esplanade Place.

2211 Camelback's 1,900 to 7,000 square-foot units are selling for $1.5 to $2.6 million. Current Biltmore are homeowners Don and Val Paquet eagerly await the day they downsize from their central Phoenix home into their new luxury condo at 2211. The couple already has seen one son off to college, and their second is preparing to graduate from high school soon. Val Paquet is active in the local arts community and doesn't want the hassle of the upkeep on her current single-family home. The Pauquets purchased a seventh-floor unit that promises a beautiful view of the surrounding Camelback Corridor.

"We look forward to being totally spoiled," says Paquet.


Take everything offered at these two properties and move into the north border of Phoenix/Scottsdale. Add a climate-controlled wine cellar with Italian blown-glass lights, as well as an outdoor fireplace and wet bar. Place it at the east edge of the 27-hole Kierland Golf Course and you have the Landmark. The six-story, luxury mid-rise sits on 2.5 acres in the heart of the 730-acre Kierland master planned community.

According to developer Ed Lewis, chief executive of Butte Properties, second-home buyers and "move-down" empty nesters make up the majority of residents in the 50-unity concrete and steel structure dubbed Tower One. Residences range from 967 to 3,700 square feet and sold for an average of $800,000. Fourteen sold for more than $1 million.

Tower Two, which is set to break ground this spring, offers some larger units averaging about $1.1 million, says Jaime Marquez, marketing and sales director for the property.

"It's great being centrally located in North Scottsdale, and walking to eat for shop at (the 38-acre) Kierland Commons," says retired attorney Andy Genin, who mover here from New York with his wife, Joan.

Although neither are golfers, both say they take great pleasure in the beauty and serenity of their golf course view. The Landmark offers unobstructed views of the horizon in 70 percent of its homes, and the Genins often see fellow residents using the three-mile hiking path around the course.

"It's so peaceful and open compared to the congestion of New York," says Joan.

Their peace of mind extends to being away as well. Recently, an unexpected emergency called them back to New York. Not only did they "lock and go" with no worries, but the concierge "went above and beyond the call of duty" offering to feed their two cats.

Customized home interiors are common in this luxury condominium community where each home reflects its owner. The Genins have a player piano in a mutli-media room that is wired to run through the entertainment system that was specifically installed for them by Buzz Jensen with Paradise Home Entertainment. Having just one remote that operates the entire system also is a dream come true.

Despite such welcoming amenities, the Genins do not confine themselves to at-home recreation. They welcome meeting their neighbors, and Joan currently serves on the Social Committee helping to plan monthly "dine around" and "game-night" activities. Then Genins agree that the residents are friendly, and the mature staff truly makes papered urban living to a higher level.


Indulged in a different way, loft livers in Tempe and Phoenix say they are drawn by the synergy and vibrancy of living in the heart of it all. Always a city dweller, Hossein Darmani thrives on the metropolitan atmosphere - the sounds of traffic, visible activity around the "neighborhood," nearby restaurants and entertainment venues. A native of Iran, Darmani lived in center-city Los Angeles, Miami, and Seattle before the "beautiful sunny weather" brought him to Phoenix.

He and his wife are profes sionals who live in a 1,600-square-foot condo above his Exotic Hardwood Flooring business in the Artisian Village Legacy Bungalows on Seventh Street between Roosevelt and Portland streets. Both look forward to the growth and increased activity predicted as urban revitalization efforts continue.

The Village is a mixed-use project designed to complement the growing arts district on "Roosevelt Row." It is the latest in a series of downtown residential projects that has added more than 1,600 units since the mid-1990s.

Bungalow neighbor Kevin Rille also says he is ready for more culture and character. A Realtor who works in the Camelback Corridor, he lives on the opposite, strictly residential side of Artisan Village in a $300,000, three-story unit that encompasses 2,000 square feet. It is one of the 105 Village units that developer Eric Brown expects to be fully occupied by the end of this year.

Rille is a true fan of maintenance-free living, noting that no yard work and little interior upkeep allow him to pursue his passion for the arts and sports. He and his friends appreciate the Village's close proximity to the Phoenix Art Museum, traditional galleries and theaters, America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark and many good restaurants. He also values the solid investment he has made, noting that property values are escalating at a rapid rate in direct relation to the increasing interest in mid- and high-rise city living.


Landscape architect Greg Swick can attest to the investment strategy. In 1987, way ahead of the urban living curve, he purchased a 700-square-foot condo at Hayden Square in Tempe for $64,000. Today the 118 tiny units which served as the forerunners of today's better-appointed urban habitats are selling for $120,000.

The contemporary architecture of this Mill Avenue and Third Street address appealed to Swick who has been perfectly positioned to experience the rebirth of downtown Tempe. He continues to enjoy walking to work and frequenting the nearby bookstores and eateries.

Emerging 15 years later in April 2002, the next generation of East Valley urban living was born in the Third Avenue Lofts. This Avenue Communities LLC development is located at 7301 E. Third Avenue in Scottsdale. It is an extravagant, five-story mid-rise project with 88 distinctive homes boasting expansive windows, soaring ceilings and a long list of amenities.

The original 65 luxury flats, ranging from 611 to 2,700 square feet on the first three floors sold for between $170,000 to $1 million. The remaining upper two floors are now complete and feature units from 1,200 to 3,100 square feet that sell for nearly $800,000 to $4 million.

Following suit the same year, Tempe residents enthusiastically greeted the 81 Lofts at Orchidhouse in the Brickyard on Mill. A multiuse facility, the Orchidhouse is owned part by Arizona State University on the first floor and the city of Tempe on the second. The ASU property features a thing-tank program called Decision Theater as well as an entrepreneurial ventures office.

"An urban landscape is an integral component of a thriving downtown," says Mike Wasko Orchidhouse resident and current homeowners' association board member. He and his wife Michelle, are empty nesters who lived in Scottsdale suburbs and raised their family before acquiescing to the yearning for "a taste of urban life."

The 1950s warehouse-style architecture at Orchidhouse provides for 11- to 13-foot ceilings and endless interior design opportunities. The 800 to 1,900-square-foot lofts inspire a simpler lifestyle. At 3,000 square feet each, six penthouses provide even more decorating options.

Wasko says he firmly believes that having few amenities encourages residents to interact with downtown and university offerings. "It's the fun of living here," he says. A testament to their philosophy, Mike and Michelle choose to live in the heart of Tempe even thought they commute each day to Deer Valley and Mesa, respectively.

Preferring to live where he works, fellow Orchidhouse resident TOM TOKOPH operates Urban Realty and Development from his fifth-story home. Citing graphic artists, architects, brokers and attorneys, Tokoph says about 10 percent of residents opt for the live-work approach. He and his wife thrive on the Berkley/Georgetown tone that is generated by the plethora of youthful, creative energy and thinking.

"Where else con you work late, have dinner, see a movie and still be home by 9:30?" Tokoph asks.

Most everything is within walking distance, except grocery shopping, but urban Tempe residents say they are looking forward to the proposed grocery store in Centerpoint Condominium complex. Until then, driving to the grocery store is no deterrent to these avid proponents of living on the rise.

As the Valley teeters on the brink of exponential growth in the high-rise market, those who already have moved up say they are enjoying the view.