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The Colosseum, a $60 million Sports Condominium Hotel Planned for Blacksburg, Virginia;
Plans to Target Virginia Tech's Wealthy, Baby Boomer Alumni
By Angela Manese-Lee, The Roanoke Times, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Apr. 7, 2007-  In 2009, a six-story, $60 million sports condominium hotel will rise on South Main Street in Blacksburg.

Dubbed The Colosseum, the project promises unrivaled luxury to avid Virginia Tech sports fans willing to plunk down between $170,000 and the low $800,000s for one of its 172 units.

Fully furnished and equipped with wedding space, a private clubhouse and a day spa, The Colosseum punctuates a game day condo-development trend that first arrived in Blacksburg in 2005 and has changed the face of several college towns.

It also marks the second major project slated to open on South Main Street in the next two years. Cleveland-based developers Fairmount Properties announced last week a list of retail and restaurant tenants for a $40 million "lifestyle center" it hopes to open there next summer.

They're 'loaded'

Developed by Radford-based Unlimited Construction with equity from A and M Ventures of Northern Virginia, The Colosseum is envisioned as "the premier Virginia Tech Hokie destination," said Daryl Andrews, managing partner and principal with A and M Ventures.

"The idea is to give the fan the ultimate, whether it's a weekend, a couple of days for a basketball game or alumni events or just to enjoy the New River Valley," Andrews added.

Offering studio, penthouse and one-, two- and three-bedroom units, hotel amenities and extras such as baby-sitting, game shuttles and underground parking, the 130,000-square-foot development is the latest project to try to target Tech's wealthy, baby boomer alumni.

"The people buying these typically have a little more disposable income," Andrews said. "They're used to traveling to nice places, they're used to having day spas [and] garage parking, they're used to flat-screen TVs and high-end finishes."

And presumably, they won't be stunned by an $800,000 penthouse price tag.

In describing the penthouse units in particular, Mark Kinser, Unlimited Construction's chief executive officer, rattled off the details: 12-foot-high ceilings, lots of glass, granite and stainless steel, terraces and views of the Ellett Valley, and pronounced them "loaded."

"It's going to be a heavy hitter that steps in and buys one of those," Kinser said. But "what we're doing is really not uncommon for Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Tidewater areas -- that level of luxury is common in those areas -- we just don't have it in Blacksburg."

Game day condo trend

Similar game day condo developments have been popping up in college towns, particularly those with strong athletic programs, for several years.

"Right now, the Southeastern Conference markets are doing these: Columbia, South Carolina; Athens, Georgia; and Knoxville, Tennessee," said John Millar, executive vice president with Divaris Real Estate in Virginia Beach.

"They're starting out in the ACC ... and there are more in the Big Ten."

Millar is currently working on a mixed-use project in State College, Pa.

Like Blacksburg, many of the college communities attracting condo projects are relatively small and comparatively undeveloped.

"Other markets in metropolitan areas are cooling down," Kinser explained. "And investors are fleeing those areas, so to speak, and looking for opportunities in other areas that haven't been tapped yet."

The trend first hit Blacksburg in 2005, with the Cascades Condominiums off Ellett Road and a number of other condo developments now in various stages of conception and construction.

Cascades developer Venture Investments Properties is working on a second, 96-unit condo project with one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom floor plans starting at $87,900 and going up to $189,900.

The Blacksburg Planning Commission and Town Council are scheduled to review in May a rezoning request that would pave the way for The Legends of Blacksburg. Located at Warren and Green streets, the Legends would be a 148-bedroom gated community offering one- and two-bedroom condos for $350,000 to more than $700,000, according to plans submitted to the town.

And last week, development group Collegiate Inn Properties announced it would partner with the owners of Blacksburg's Holiday Inn University to convert the facility into a 148-room hotel condo. Upgraded hotel rooms have been priced at $119,900 to $129,900.

Project viable?

Together, the condo projects look to bring a significant amount of alumni investment back to Blacksburg.

For Bill Aden, president of The Blacksburg Partnership and Draper Aden Associates, it's about time.

"This town's been kind of undiscovered for a long time, and I think a lot of the alumni have got an eye on coming back," Aden said. "You'd be amazed with how much money is out there with the baby boomers, especially with the Northern Virginia alumni who would love to be back in Blacksburg for whatever the amount of time."

Yet, with a handful of large projects in the pipeline, it's unclear if there will be enough wealthy Tech alumni to go around.

"Certainly, these kinds of projects are successful in university communities that have prominent athletic programs," said Ray Smoot, chief operating officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation and a member of The Blacksburg Partnership. "I do see it as a continued development evolution of our market here."

And "I think it's a good thing," Smoot added. "But how much of it the market can absorb I guess remains to be seen."

Millar said in his experience, the most successful game day condos are located near stadiums that seat more than 100,000 people.

Tech's Lane Stadium has about 66,000 seats.

Bigger facilities "have a much larger market to draw from," Millar said. "But given Virginia Tech's success in football and now their success in basketball, and the fact that they do have a large alumni base -- and an affluent alumni base ... you never know."

While project viability remains to be seen, what is clear is that The Colosseum could help transform Blacksburg's southern entrance.

The condo hotel's unveiling comes just days after news that Fairmount Properties plans to bring a number of name-brand retailers and restaurateurs to a 40-acre commercial development located just a few blocks away.

"There's a lot that looks like it's happening -- a lot on the drawing boards," Aden said. "If all this comes out, it's going to change the whole face of South Main."

Staff writer Tonia Moxley contributed to this report.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Roanoke Times, Va.

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