Glenn Levie calls Boise "absolutely my favorite market to work in."
Levie enjoys the city itself, but there's a business consideration, too. Boise's planning and building department staff is easy to work with. He's built projects here and in other cities around the West, he said, and Boise's compares favorably to building departments in all of them.
Levie said Los Angeles, where he lives, is vibrant, but it's too volatile for him. Idaho Falls isn't vibrant enough. Sun Valley's supply and demand are too hard to predict.
Levie, an architect and developer who specializes in urban housing, thinks his Boise project is a sure win. He's so confident that he plans to charge more than $1 per square foot per month for his apartments at 951 E. Front St. Few apartments around Boise cost anywhere near that much. His smallest one-bedroom apartments, with 675 square feet, will cost $850 to $985. Two-bedroom apartments with 970 to 1,141 square feet will rent for $1,125 to $1,525.
"I can tell you the top of the market right now is $1 a foot," said Nancy Lemas, a broker for the local affiliate of KW commercial and a property manager who specializes in Downtown Boise rentals.
Many factors went into Levie's decision to build The 951. The economy is improving. Americans, especially millennials and empty nesters, increasingly want to live in apartments in urban centers. But the most important factor is one number - the one that's mesmerizing developers and pushing new apartment projects all over the Treasure Valley: the vacancy rate.
Traditionally, a healthy vacancy rate for urban apartments is somewhere in the 5 percent range. Boise's is close to 2 percent. Downtown, it's less than 2 percent.
That rate, combined with a chance to buy a piece of ground just east of Downtown, was too much for Levie to pass up. He said he's less than a year from completing The 951, which will have four stories, 68 apartments, 4,000 square feet of retail space and several live-work spaces where people can rent apartments that are connected to business spaces.
Lemas loves The 951's location at ParkCenter Boulevard and East Front Street. It's close to Downtown, but not quite in the urban buzz. Close to Boise State University, the St. Luke's hospital campus and the Boise River Greenbelt. Some of the apartments will have views of the Foothills.
"There's a lot of properties coming out of the ground that they're going to compete with, but nobody can compete with this location," Lemas said. "Is it 30 percent more well-located? I don't know."
"I say yes," said Natalie Lemas Hernandez, Lemas' daughter and the company's COO.
The project's location is just that good, Lemas Hernandez said.
Levie wants to see more Downtown housing, even though he's not convinced that the city of Boise will succeed in its goal of encouraging private construction of 1,000 new homes Downtown over the next five years.
"I don't know that that's realistic either from the availability of land or the demand. I am encouraged that the energy's going back into Downtown," he said. "There is always room for people to abandon their car and take a pedestrian approach to living. We may not be able to completely abandon the cars at our site. We're certainly going to reduce commutes."
Greg MacMillan, who works for real estate broker Colliers International, said The 951 will itself be a test of the Downtown market and renters' appetite for an upscale product.
"It's probably going to rent out just because they're one of the first to market," MacMillan said. "There's definitely demand there. First to market is always an advantage."
The question, MacMillan said, is how well The 951 ages. If lots of other developers build similar projects in the future, will Levie's concept lose its shine?
MacMillan's other question about The 951 is how successful its retailers will be. Levie hopes the stores "become almost an amenity to the people that are living in the building." MacMillan wonders whether their visibility will translate into sales.
"Obviously, they're going to get a lot of people that are going to see it," he said. "Then it's just a matter of how many are going to actually recognize it, pull in, stop and, you know, be a patron."
Sven Berg: 377-6275