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Originally published Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Neiman Marcus part of condo-marketing plan for the Bravern

Luxury retailer is a draw for people wanting to buy a condo at the Bravern in Bellevue.

Seattle Times business reporter

Dori Aramesh and her husband, Mike Karimi, already have a downtown Bellevue condo and don't need another.

But Aramesh, 67, bought a second condo anyway just a few blocks from where she lives after learning that Neiman Marcus will open a department store next year at the Bravern.

"I love to shop, and I realized, my God, my world is being created over here," said Aramesh, who sold women's clothes for Neiman Marcus in Northern Virginia and California before moving to Bellevue two years ago. She plans to work at the new store and use her Bravern condo as a crash pad.

"It's very, very exciting."

The Bravern is part of a downtown Bellevue building boom that counts about 1,500 condos and 1,800 apartments under construction, representing a near-doubling of city center housing units.

Developer Schnitzer West started selling the Bravern's 455 planned condo units in February at prices ranging from $400,000 to more than $5 million. Like other condos, the Bravern promises prospective buyers mountain views, stylish fixtures and ample parking — but it's the only one that can also give them Neiman Marcus.

Whether that's enough to persuade them to buy a condo amid a housing-market slowdown and credit crunch remains to be seen.

"We knew that a luxury-retail offering would be compelling to condominium buyers," Schnitzer managing-investment partner Dan Ivanoff said, declining to disclose sales figures. "It's not going to be another me-too condo site with a Starbucks tucked in on the bottom."

Admittedly, Schnitzer did not set out to develop a Neiman Marcus when it took over the Bravern site in late 2000, Ivanoff said.

Instead, Schnitzer planned a convention-center hotel in cooperation with the city, but discussions broke down three years later.

Schnitzer then envisioned four office towers and began talking with retailers and restaurants about going into the ground floors.

In mid-2005, Schnitzer senior investment director Tom Woodworth met with a Pelham, N.Y.-based real-estate broker who represented retailer Kate Spade. As it turned out, Kate Spade wasn't interested in opening a store at the Bravern.

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But the broker also represented Neiman Marcus, so Woodworth began asking about the Dallas-based retailer's expansion plans.

"It became clear that we had the attributes he was looking for if we could modify our development to accommodate a Neiman Marcus store," Woodworth said.

Schnitzer returned to the drawing board and more than doubled the Bravern's retail space, making room for a 125,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus. It kept two of the Bravern's planned office buildings but replaced the other two with a pair of condo towers. For ideas, its design team traveled to Europe.

"What came through our focus groups, which surprised us a little bit, was that people wanted an authentic, genuine outdoor experience" with a European feel, as if the project "evolved over several generations," Ivanoff said. "That's a tall order."

Last year, Microsoft announced that it would take both of the Bravern's office buildings, prompting one retail tenant to write Woodworth: "You just made me look like a genius."

About 2,300 Microsoft workers will begin moving into the new offices this fall.

"Knowing what we know now, they might have gone ahead and built the additional offices. But at the time, there was a lot of office space going up in Bellevue," said Stan Laegreid, a principal at Seattle-based Callison who helped design the Bravern. "They felt like residences would be a very good complement to their other uses, given that they had Neiman Marcus."

Indeed, the department store features prominently in ads for the Bravern's condos.

One such ad portrays a well-dressed couple raising glasses of red wine over a rendering of the store and these words: "Upstairs, your private retreat. Downstairs, your playground."

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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