Oasis high-rise finally draws crowd

For two years, Victor Vangelakos was the only resident of a 32-story riverfront tower in Fort Myers.

Now, he has dozens of new neighbors at the Oasis, thanks to new ownership and a new push to sell homes at the high-rise condominium development.

Vangelakos has been out of town, but says he can’t wait to see the neighbors. Meanwhile, the Weehawken, N.J., firefighter and the developer remain locked in a bitter legal dispute.

“I’m coming there at the end of the month for just two days” on the way back to New Jersey from Miami, where he’s giving a deposition in the lawsuit, Vangelakos said.

“I have yet to see it. I’m looking forward when I get down there to asking all the neighbors how things are going,” he said.

The sales push, started with an auction Nov. 20, by new owner Oasis Associates LLC of 40 units to get sales going. Those units were sold at absolute auction, meaning the high bid took the unit with no minimum price by the seller.

Five months later, units have been selling steadily, said Wendy Payton-Enriquez, spokeswoman for The Related Group, which is still managing the project and handling sales.

According to Lee County Clerk of Court records, 12 units at Oasis have been sold in the past two months. The price varied from $155,000 for a one-bedroom condo on the 15th floor to $284,000 for three bedrooms on the 23rd floor.

In Tower 1, where Vangelakos lives, 82 of 200 units are sold or under contract. With a bulk sale of 224 units in Tower 2 in February, that means “the project’s about 70 percent sold,” Payton-Enriquez said.

The riverfront condominiums are selling briskly, Payton-Enriquez said – and most buyers are paying cash.

It has been a turbulent year for Oasis.

Bank of America, which financed the two towers’ construction, filed for foreclosure a year ago on its $154 million loan to Oasis’ developer, Miami-based Related. Four months later, the bank assigned the mortgage to a company with connections to Related.

Most of the buyers are using the condos as second homes, although a few are living there full time, Payton-Enriquez said.

‘Things are selling’

Jeff and Carol Turcotte bought a three-bedroom unit on the 14th floor for $165,000 at the auction and now split their time between there and Bristol, N.H., Jeff Turcotte said.

“I think we ended up doing pretty well,” he said. “We originally looked at Oasis when this was pre-construction. We liked the plans but thought the price was too high. We ended up buying a villa home at Moody River Estates” in North Fort Myers.

Also, Turcotte said, they moved because of the spectacular views and the project’s location.

“We liked the way it was close to downtown Fort Myers,” he said. “We like the restaurants, we like the proximity to the city.”

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said he’s glad to hear that, and that he’s working to make the downtown even more of a magnet for the riverfront towers. They sprung up after the city hired Miami-based architect Andres Duany to draw up a plan to reinvigorate that part of the city.

Sales at the towers fell sharply, however, after the housing market imploded starting in early 2006. Units at Oasis, for example, now go for less than half their pre-construction prices.

“I’m a little guarded,” Henderson said. “I don’t want to get too optimistic, because things are going to taper off” after this winter’s tourist season ends.

But he said all the signs are encouraging. City officials are in discussions to get a Columbia Restaurant downtown – the Tampa landmark dates back a century and has an enthusiastic following in Florida.

Fort Myers-based commercial real estate broker Steve Luta said he sees a general improvement in downtown real estate. “Things are selling,” Luta said.

Payton-Enriquez said a lot of the buyers are Midwesterners, although Oasis is also getting interest from the West Coast and some European countries – notably Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The buyers tend to like the contemporary design of the building and also the assurance that the auction brought to pricing, she said.

“The effect was to jump start the sales process, which was the goal.”

With so many cash buyers, Payton-Enriquez said, Oasis’ stability is more assured. “There’s no foreclosures or short sales in there,” she said.

Hello, neighbor

Meanwhile, Vangelakos wants the company to return his deposit and let him out of his purchase of the unit he bought in December 2008. All the other buyers either accepted a swap for a Tower 2 unit or simply walked away from their deposits.

He and his family have vacationed at the condo, where they’re usually the only people in the building.

Vangelakos attended the auction but hasn’t been in town since then. He said he’s certain he’ll like the place more than in the years when he was the only resident and Related provided minimal upkeep.

He may not know his new neighbors yet, but they know him because of media coverage, Vangelakos said with a chuckle.

“At the auction, they all knew me,” he said.

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