StoryBook Homes is planning to build an apartment complex at the northwest corner of Grand Canyon Drive and Tropicana Avenue, as seen Sunday, July 19, 2015.
Homebuilder Wayne Laska, who sells smaller, lower-priced houses than other builders, is getting in on Las Vegas’ apartment craze — and infusing his project with a touch of luxury.
Laska, owner of StoryBook Homes, says he is gearing up to start construction of a stylish, four-story, 175-unit rental complex at the northwest corner of Tropicana Avenue and Grand Canyon Drive, in the southwest valley. It would be his first apartment development.
The partially built site — it already has an underground parking garage — was supposed to have pricy condos years ago, but previous owners lost the project, dubbed the Mercer, to foreclosure during the recession.
Laska bought the roughly 5-acre site for $1.25 million in 2012, county records show, far below the $5.45 million that the failed developers paid in 2006.
He said he hopes to start construction this fall. He said he’s “wrapping up” building plans and expects to submit them to Clark County in the next few weeks and that he’s getting close to finalizing a $22 million development loan. He’s been working on the financing package for the past year.
Project plans call for a rooftop deck; a courtyard with a swimming pool and movie nights; a yoga room; outdoor fire pits and fountains; and ground-floor retail space. Rental rates are expected to be $1,000 to $2,500 per month.
Laska aims to open the Mercer — he kept the name — in the first quarter of 2017.
“It was dead at one point,” he said. “We’re going to resuscitate it.”
The Mercer was one of countless real estate projects in Las Vegas that were abandoned, often midconstruction, during the downturn. And Laska is one of many investors who bought these zombie properties, typically at a steep discount, to complete them.
Condo projects alone included ManhattanWest, now called the Gramercy;Vantage Lofts; and Milano Residences, now called the Lennox.
Like the Mercer, those three developments were designed as for-sale condo complexes but now are rentals offering higher-endamenities.
The Mercer was initially designed to have 113 units. It was more than 50 percent pre-sold by time the developers broke ground in 2007, and asking prices reached $790,000, reports said. Amenities were to include hardwood flooring, stainless steel kitchen appliances, and granite and marble countertops.
Construction apparently stopped in 2009, the same year the project’s lender foreclosed on it.
Failed condo projects were “all over” the valley during the recession, and given their low prices, they were “hard to pass up,” said Dennis Smith, founder of Las Vegas-based Home Builders Research.
“It was a good deal,” he said of Laska’s purchase.
The apartment industry is one of the most-active areas of real estate locally and nationally, especially for development. In Las Vegas, investors have been buying andbuilding multifamily properties as younger residents shy away from homeownership and because many locals — their personal finances wrecked by the recession — haven’t been able to land a mortgage, let alone afford a down payment, and have to rent.
Apartment-complex sales volume is far higher than it was at the depths of the downturn but has fallen the past few years. The drop-off comes amid rising prices and, perhaps, a shrinking availability of lower-priced buildings.
Investors picked up almost 2,800 units in the first half of 2015, a pace of about 5,600 for the year, at an average price of about $84,700 per unit. In 2012, landlords bought 21,840 units for an average of $65,425 apiece, according to Colliers International.
Meanwhile, after opening just 367 rental units valleywide in 2013, developers completed about 1,700 units last year. As of December, they were projected to open roughly 5,750 units this year and almost 2,000 more in 2016, according to CBRE Group.
Not everyone’s cheering the workload. Some people have said developers are piling in too quickly and overbuilding, especially in the southwest valley, where it seems most of the projects are concentrated.
“Apartments have probably gotten a little ahead of themselves right now,” RCG Economics founder John Restrepo said a few months ago.
Laska, who runs day-to-day operations of StoryBook, launched the company with his wife, Catherine, around 2003. They sell 100 to 120 homes annually, mostly in the southwest valley.
Through June, StoryBook closed 68 sales this year, 15th-most in the valley, according to Home Builders Research. (Miami-based powerhouse Lennar Corp. was No. 1 with 667.)
StoryBook, like the rest of its industry, was battered by the economic meltdown last decade. The company, and the Laskas, were on the brink financially as Southern Nevada’s homebuilding sector, which had been white hot during the real estate bubble, all but collapsed.
“We almost filed bankruptcy three times,” Wayne Laska said.
Today, his sales volume has doubled from the depths of the downturn — his company sold 69 homes in all of 2009, according to VEGAS INC research — and he’s getting into the apartment business in a big way.
Not only is he developing his first project, but he and his wife are planning to move to a 4,000-square-foot, fourth-floor corner unit at the Mercer.
Also, concerned that he might not find tenants for all of the retail space, Laska said he might move his company’s headquarters from Town Center Drive at the 215 Beltway to the ground floor of the apartment complex.