The national real estate bubble may be losing a little air, but it definitely hasn't burst. And Astoria, with its unique charm, continues to attract investors, especially from out-of-state.
Recent developments have been decidedly upscale - the Hotel Elliott downtown and the Cannery Pier Hotel near the West Mooring Basin, for example. And a California company is building the Cannery Lofts condos at 39th Street, aimed at GenXers and wealthy retirees and empty-nesters.
What's been lacking are projects aimed at upwardly mobile young people with low to moderate incomes.
California developers Dan Garbez and Ron Briggs, of BDJ Astoria LLC, have almost finished transforming three rundown buildings at 1527-1543 Exchange St. into Taylor Place Apartments - safe, modern, stylish and affordable.
Garbez, who says the California real estate market is "crazy," had his eye on the property for awhile, but wasn't sure how to develop it. Before he bought it, he looked for advice at City Hall.
"He came in and asked, 'What does the city need?'" said Rosemary Johnson, Astoria's city planner. "I told him low- to moderate-income rentals."
Although rental costs are moderate at Taylor Place Apartments, its 40 units feature high-end amenities including high-speed Internet access, huge windows, kitchens with granite countertops and tile floors, and bathrooms with clawfoot tubs. Many units have stunning views. The 30 studio apartments go for $550 a month. The 10 one-bedrooms units are $625.
Taylor Place is not new construction. Instead, it's a loving renovation of the three neglected buildings, which police say had become a haven for thieves and drug dealers. Two of the buildings, converted Victorians formerly linked by an extremely ugly covered walkway, comprised the Chalet Apartments. The third one, made of brick and built in the 1940s, was known as the Rosecrest.
All three were in bad shape when Garbez saw them last summer, while looking for investment property that could "put (his) two-year-old twins through college." But Garbez, who lives in a Victorian home in Sacramento, Calif., that he restored himself, could see the buildings' potential. He and Briggs bought the Chalet and the Rosecrest in January.
They named the new entity after Col. James Taylor, a prominent Astoria citizen who came to Oregon in the 1800s. The front Victorian was once Col. Taylor's home.
"It needed a ton of rehabilitation," Garbez said, but having restored his own home, "I wasn't afraid of it," he said.
He worked with an architect to design new stairways and worked with all city departments to meet codes and pass design review. He hired Scappoose-based Northwest Expert Painter, owned by Jason Kang, as general contractor. Garbez installed a Web cam so he and Kang could talk on the phone and both be looking at the same thing.
"We like to keep historical features but upgrade lots of stuff," said Kang, who specializes in historic renovations. He and his crew gutted the buildings, removed the old covered walkway and built new staircases. They painted the interior walls beige and the woodwork dark brown. The exterior of the Victorians is painted gray with white trim and black accents. In the brick building, they carpeted the halls, but left the hardwood floors showing.
LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian
A skylit hallway on the 3rd floor of one of the Taylor Place Apartment buildings leads to a few studio apartments.Safety and security are important components of the upgrade. There are new secure front doors as well as security cameras on every floor. All three buildings have smoke detectors and a sprinkler system, which makes Astoria Fire Marshal Mike Jackson very happy.
"These people are example-setters for community fire safety," said Jackson. "There has never been a recorded loss of life in this country in a building with a sprinkler system."
Garbez gave existing tenants notice to move out and required them to reapply if they wanted to come back, Johnson said. All prospective tenants are carefully screened. She said Garbez told her he is looking for tenants he'd feel comfortable with if his own little daughters were living there.
That's a big change from the old Chalet and Rosecrest, according to Astoria Police Chief Rob Deu Pree. He said the two buildings used to be the scene of a large number of drug calls and assaults, a place where burglars often hatched their plans and where they stashed stolen property.
"We're very happy that some people were willing to buy the properties and change them from extremely low-income properties that were rented, and in some cases managed, by criminals. We have complimented the owners on their work and that they have a local property manager who has a reputation for running a tight ship," Deu Pree said.
Garbez said it's a matter of being a responsible landlord.
"Our experience with Astoria has been extremely positive. Everyone with the city and county has been very helpful," he said, especially Johnson.
"If I had the money I would come back to Astoria and buy another property," Garbez said. "It took me three years just to get through the bureaucracy in Sacramento to restore my Victorian."