High-Rise Developer Plans Condo Projects in California's Orange County

Irvine The developer of Orange County's first high-rise condo building in decades declared that suburban sprawl is on its way out while describing plans to build four new residential towers in Irvine.

Nat Bosa, 62, who pioneered West Coast condo towers with projects in Vancouver, San Diego and San Francisco, said public demand for a more urban lifestyle is growing because people don't want to drive.

Also, because land is becoming scarce, builders can't continue suburban sprawl. He said, for example, that parking lots in aging shopping malls will be ideal sites for future condo towers.

"You can't build them enough," Bosa said. "Why? Because people want them."

The 18-story, 232-unit Marquee Park Place near John Wayne Airport and the San Diego (I-405) Freeway became Orange County's first condo tower in 30 years -- and likely only the third ever -- when it opened to residents in December 2005.

Construction on a four-tower, 566-unit project south of the Marquee building will begin in late 2007 at the soonest and will take at least six years to complete, with one tower being built every two years, officials with Bosa Development said.

"We're going through a few items with the city. We should be cleaned up, have everything settled in the next couple months," Bosa said of the next project. "And then it'll take us about six months or so to have our plans and everything finalized. So I would say the earliest, if we went as fast as we could, we could not be on the ground much earlier than late this year."

Bosa's comments came last week during the "grand open house" at his Marquee Park Place condo tower, an invitation-only event to celebrate the completion of a $1 million renovation of the lobby and other common areas launched after residents complained that they were not luxurious enough.

The renovations included new carpet, flooring, drapes, furniture, paintings and counters. Irvine-basedStyle Interior Designwas hired to design the interior the second time around.

Bosa, who agreed to make the changes even after all escrows had closed, said he spent the money to show to Orange County that he takes care of his customers and to set himself apart from other condo tower builders.

"I don't believe in lawsuits. I don't believe in fighting with my customers. My customers (are) my lifeline," Bosa said, conceding that he made a mistake.

"My hobby is not to go and spend $1 million, and we learned by it," he said. "I forgot one great rule: When in Rome do as the Romans do. Well unfortunately, when we came here, we didn't do as people here wanted. It was obvious, they didn't like it. So what the hell are you going to do? Am I that stupid? We have four more towers here."

Asked why he began building condo towers before anyone else, Bosa said he felt that it would be too late to get in the game if he waited until others were building them. Marquee Park Place sold out before construction was complete (although one-third of the units went up for resale soon after residents began moving in).

Home shoppers should follow that same reasoning, he added, saying that while it might sound foolish, the time to buy a home is within the next six months.

"You know, we are like a bunch of sheep, and we always buy (homes) on the way up. And we chase it all the way to the top, thinking that there's never an ending, it's going to go higher and higher," he said. "Nonsense. It's absolutely nonsense."

There now are roughly four dozen high-rise condo towers under construction, planned or proposed in the county, although Bosa is skeptical that all of those towers will be built.

Some developers have no experience or expertise in even building high-rises, he noted. Labor is expensive and construction costs are rising rapidly.

"The market here is very big, (but) people have not discovered it yet. They're not comfortable with it yet," Bosa said. "You've got to realize that a condominium market does not just happen. You've got to get acquainted with it. ... It (takes) a long time."

Register staff writer Jeff Overly contributed to this report.