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Tower talk

Judith Harlan

They’re not even named as yet, but the two new downtown Reno towers are creating a buzz.

It’s early, early days in the project, earlier than the developers wanted to break the news, says Nello Gonfiantini III, president and chief executive officer of Specialty Financial, a Reno-based mortgage company and one of the principals in Vero Development LLC, formed to develop the towers.

But in a town the size of Reno where news travels fast the story of the no-name towers was about to break.

People were asking the mayor direct questions.

It was time to step in and make it official, take control of the information flow, the developers say.

Plans are in the works for two towers, a 35-floor and a 21-floor tower of condos, with two floors of office space thrown in and more possibilities for the future.

It’s so early, says Gonfiantini, that it’ll be three to four months before the group has costed the project out or run pro-forma financial statements.

The tower project is a project from the heart of Gonfiantini, and his two Vero Development partners Peter Stremmel, owner of the Reno Stremmel Gallery and coowner of the Parchman-Stremmel Gallery in San Antonio, Texas, along with Terry Manley, a Las Vegas developer of planned communities and housing.

Gonfiantini, through Gonzo Triangle Investors LLC , bought the 3.5 acres bordered by Second, Lake, and First streets in two phases, holding part of it for six or seven years, and the other since 2001, says Gonfiantini, while watching downtown’s pending resurgence and awaiting the right moment to enter the market.

The moment is now.

“We would never have done it just on our own, if no other developers were there, if not for the city’s redevelopment efforts,” he says.

Gonfiantini, whose firm has been in the commercial lending business for more than 25 years, went into the deal with eyes open.He knows what it takes to get a major project under way.

It takes personal investment seed money, money that shows commitment from the developer.

So far, he and fellow Vero Development investors are showing commitment and funding the project with their own earnest money.

They’re invested, says Gonfiantini, and they intend to invest further over the next several months, in additional architectural, engineering, and development consultants, all working toward a construction loan to be taken out at about the end of 2005.

“That’d be plan A,” says Gonfiantini.

The project represents more than a financial investment for the group, says Stremmel.

It evolved from his and Gonfiantini’s shared interest in architecture and in downtown Reno’s development, an interest that focuses on the impact architecture has on the individual spirit as well as a downtown’s vibrancy.

“We did not intend it to be so big,” he adds,”but as we worked on it, it made sense to build two towers.” Condos made sense, too, he says.

Focus groups told them so.

“We did a dozen focus groups,” says Manley.

The groups looked at the end market and the project aesthetics, and included, among others, groups of real estate agents, downtown employees, people living in highrise condos in northern California.

They responded to the market demand, and later, to the early architectural renderings.

They had an impact, too.

In response to focus group feedback, the architect renowned Carlos Zapata of Zapata-Associates, Inc.

a New York firm tweaked the design, adding balconies.”People here love and appreciate the outdoors,” says Stremmel.

So all of the condos have balconies, and all the floors are oriented differently to the outside world.

The three core investors have worked together before, says Manley, on projects that include Desert Lakes, a 2,500-acre masterplanned community in Coachella, Calif.And The Residence Club, a fractional ownership development at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

For this project, they hired a team that includes Walter Estay, of the Reno office of Henderson, Nev.-based Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects.

It also includes Glen Hopkins and Michael Welebit, of HOP Properties, a limited liability corporation that provides program, project, and construction management services on real estate projects.

The reason behind hiring HOP Properties: “For the high-rise experience,” says Manley, the team member tasked with the development side of the project.His experience goes up just five stories.

The group’s been pulling together the team and working on the project for two years, adds Manley.

And it’s still early, early days.

Now begins the stretch of time when, typically, little is heard about the project, the time when architects and developers work together to fill in the details how many two-bedroom condos? How many three’s? Sub-contractors will be brought in.

Meanwhile, the project will be costed out, and meetings with the city go forward, as well as with issues surrounding the river and redevelopment.

Groundbreaking is estimated for spring 2006.


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