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Majority of downtown homeowners just moving from one place to another

Bosa groupies. That's what Alan Nevin, director of economic research for MarketPointe Realty Advisors, calls the phenomena. Downtown San Diego condominium owners who bought the builder's units in the past two or three years are finding themselves poised to move up, both literally and figuratively.

And the trend isn't limited to the Vancouver builder's high-rises.

Realtor Raye Scott, with Scott-Finn & Associates of Prudential California Realty, could be called the poster Bosa condo owner.

She moved downtown a year ago into Park Place, a high-rise in the Columbia district. Last September she put money down on a unit in Grande at Santa Fe, a project that's two years out.

In August, she'll put a reservation on a unit at Electra, which will be built inside the shell of the former San Diego Gas & Electric station on Broadway.

"The fortunate thing is you're able to lock in on today's dollar," Scott said. "They put a price on it today. What you reserve today, that's the price you're going to pay (tomorrow). There's no escalating clause on it. The day you close escrow you have built-in equity."

Bobbi Gilliam, a broker who in 1989 opened her downtown business, Downtown Properties, is another downtown condo owner who's set her sights on moving into a new unit under construction across the street.

She lives in Horizons, a Bosa Development high-rise in the Marina district and will move to the Pinnacle Museum tower in about a year.

Gilliam's moving from a 10th floor, two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,240-square-foot condo -- with one patio and a view looking south of the bay -- into a slightly larger, 13th floor unit with two patios and even better views. The new one will have two bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and a den.

"If you're going to move, you have to have a good reason for moving," she said, citing her need for the den. "I need more closet space and having two patios isn't bad."

When Gilliam bought her Horizons unit in 1999, she paid what she considered at the time a high price: $399,000. Today, she could ask for $750,000, she said, which is more than she paid for the Pinnacle condo.

"The new one is an excellent price and people will die because I got in at the very beginning," Gilliam said, adding that she paid $675,000. "If I had known I could get $750,000 for (the Horizon unit) I'd have bought a higher floor over there." That would have cost her an additional $50,000 when she bought the unit. Since then, prices have increased.

Prudential's Scott put money down on her eighth floor, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo three years ago. She paid $480,000. Today she could sell it for about $900,000, she said. Her new unit at the Grande will be about the same size but on the 18th floor. She paid $757,000 for it.

The condo at Electra, which Scott expects to move into in spring 2008, will have two bedrooms and a den.

"I'll be able to afford higher and go larger, and keep the mortgage like it is now," she said. "I'm going to have to sacrifice some of the height because I'm going bigger. I'm going to shoot for the 15th floor and have a larger unit."

At this time she doesn't know the cost of the condo.

Scott said her final place probably will be in a Bosa tower that will be built in the area.

Scott was tentative when she first moved downtown from her Carmel Valley townhome. "I rented the place, hedging my bets to see if I liked the downtown lifestyle," she said. "I sold my place two months ago."

It's the lifestyle that drew Scott and it's the lifestyle -- a word frequently bandied about when anyone discusses downtown condo living -- that has kept her.

Here she can go out and walk around, explore, go out for a coffee or a drink. "I feel safe as a female in this town," Scott said. "Here I could be with people every night of the week. I have to choose to be alone. When I lived in the suburbs, I came home from my job, drove in the garage and went in -- that was it."

Lew Breeze, a Realtor with Dream Homes California, specializes in the downtown condo market.

He estimated about 40 percent of his clients come from outside the downtown area, and about 60 percent are current owners of downtown properties.

"Someone's initial investment downtown town may seem like a big step," Breeze said. "There's so much new construction going on, they'll make a reservation, and sell the (first) place. Quite often they'll do that more than once."

Peter J. Hall, president and chief operating officer of Centre City Development Corp., said downtown San Diego has no history of being a residential community compared to Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

The city's seat started in Old Town. Developer Alonzo Horton came down and bought up land at the waterfront in the mid-1800s, he said. Horton called it New Town. The developer convinced city and civic leaders to move City Hall from Old Town to what today is the Gaslamp District. Its location changed a few times then moved to the current site in the 1960s.

The flats of downtown were about commerce, manufacturing, shipping, the railroad and a dump near the convention center's current site.

Downtown was primarily a place where people would go to work or shop, Hall said. People lived in the hills adjacent to downtown.

"When we started redevelopment in the mid-1970s, our goal was to get feet on the street," he said. "It's about people. People create places."

The first two condo projects were built in the late 1970s, Hall said: Park Row and Marina Park.

The hope was to spark interest in other residential developers, he said. High interest rates and low public interest dampened enthusiasm.

The next effort took place in the mid- to late 1980s: One high-rise took about 10 years to fully sell out. Then in 1998, the CCDC went out with another initiative, identifying 11 potential residential sites. Some were owned or controlled by the CCDC, others weren't.

The initiative was nationally publicized through the Urban Land Institute.

"We said, 'Come to San Diego and build, we want to talk to you,'" he said, adding that there were 38 proposals, many from developers out of state.

"Every site had multiple suitors wanting to build a project, and of course, the rest is history."

Related Articles:

Builders have mixed feelings about investors 'flipping' their condominiums (Jun. 29, 2004)

Expense of development pushing new apartment construction into condo conversions (Jun. 18, 2004)

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