A Tale of Two Condos
Liberty Heights survived the recession. Just a block away, West Towne ended in bankruptcy.
by Josie Schneider
In 2005, a single-wide trailer appeared in a nondescript gravel lot at the northwest corner of Liberty and Maple. The trailer served as the sales office for the West Towne condominiums.
Inside was an impressive scale model of the complex--eighty-eight units in nine buildings--that developer Mike Concannon planned to build on the corner. Potenial buyers were greeted by his wife, Barbara, who passionately described the units' dramatic architectural details, with high ceilings and huge windows, like you'd find in New York City.
Fast forward to October 2008. The bursting real estate bubble and financial crisis sent home buyers running for cover. The closing of Pfizer dumped 1,500 homes on the market as staffers left the city. With prices plunging, builders with unsold homes couldn't even recoup their costs.
"I've been in this business for thirty years, and I've never started a project I haven't finished--until now, when five of them are stalled," Concannon told the Community Observer in 2010. All those properties eventually went into foreclosure. In 2012, Concannon filed for personal bankruptcy, and forty-seven creditors--from Kitchen Suppliers of Detroit to Waldorf Floors in Farmington Hills--got in line hoping to collect debts totaling $5 million.
Concannon's debts were discharged last year--but with the properties gone, the creditors got nothing. Norfolk Homes bought West Towne from Fifth Third Bank and turned it into a rental complex called Blue Heron Pond.
The same year Concannon started West Towne, Peters Building Company launched Liberty Heights just a block away. But unlike West Towne, Liberty Heights--and its developer--survived the economic downturn.
What made the difference?
"We were further along," says Peters owner Jim Haeussler. Because his project moved more quickly, one-third of the condominiums were sold and occupied by October 2008. It helped that Liberty Heights was more traditional in design, appealing to a larger audience than the more novel West Towne.
When sales stopped, Peters put its managers to work constructing homes. "There wasn't the need for the speed. Our employees knew how to trim a house, for instance," says Haeussler. "We did some portion of the work ourselves."
Haeussler said that sales stalled for several years but picked up again last winter. Liberty Heights is now almost sold out, with the last five units getting interior finishing touches.
[Originally published in February, 2014.]