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Developer sinks $90 million-plus into four project

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EXCLUSIVE REPORTS

From the April 22, 2005 print edition

Developer sinks $90 million-plus into four projects

Michael Halpin, in a shift, is filling niche markets with new condos

Noelle C. Haner

Senior Staff Writer

ORLANDO -- Michael Halpin is a very busy man these days -- and with good reason.

His company, Development Resources Group LLC, currently has more than $90 million in condominium projects quietly under way. "This will be my climactic finish in downtown Orlando," he says.

The projects run the gamut, from the $55 million condo conversion of the 244-unit Echelon at Uptown apartment complex to North Pointe Place, a mixed-use development near Florida Hospital with 36 two-bedroom condos and 18,000 square feet of commercial space.

There also is Conway Crest, a 60-unit condo project on the shores of Lake Conway in Belle Isle, and Delaney Court, a 20-unit project on South Orange Avenue near Orlando Regional Healthcare.

One common thread runs through all of Halpin's current projects: Each one is located in an area where little condo development has taken place thus far or that is sandwiched between two burgeoning condo markets, like downtown Orlando and Winter Park.

"Most areas in downtown already have found their identities, except the stretch of Orange Avenue between downtown and Winter Park and the South Orange Avenue market," explains Susan Leszczynski, marketing director for Development Resources Group. "Now, the identities from the developed areas are bleeding into the untapped markets and helping them find themselves."

Teaming up

The condo projects are a departure for Halpin, who has made a name for himself during the last 15 years building or renovating more than 1,000 residential units in downtown Orlando through a company called Orlando Builders Showcase.

"Michael is almost a pioneer in some of the downtown neighborhoods," says Frank Billingsly, executive director of Orlando's Downtown Development Board.

Among his projects are Atkins Court, Atkins Place, Adair Place, Church Street Terrace, Arbors on Aragon and Golfview Villas at the city's Dubsdread Golf Course.

About a year ago, Halpin decided to switch gears and began focusing on the condo market. But in order to do so, he had to tweak his business model.

First, he teamed up with The Wear Group. Specializing in sales launches for residential developments, condo projects and time share resorts, the North Carolina company had spent the last year working with Transeastern Homes on the builder's priority sales launches in the Central Florida area.

Four months ago, Halpin and Jim Wear Jr., one of the principals of The Wear Group, formed a partnership -- Condominium Conversion Specialists -- to focus on Orlando's condo conversion craze.

With Orlando Builders Showcase working in new construction, Halpin placed both companies under the umbrella of Development Resources Group.

"It's a good fit," says Wear of the partnership. "Michael knows development, and I know sales."

Niche markets

Condo market insiders believe Halpin's focus on generally untapped areas just outside of downtown Orlando's major condo projects, coupled with his new business model, is an excellent strategy for developing niche markets.

"There is a lot of competition for projects for the urban core," explains Jack McCabe, chief executive of Deerfield Beach-based McCabe Research & Consulting LLC. "But there also is a tremendous market for projects that are within close proximity and usually can offer better price points than the downtown projects."

And these price points, along with quick turnaround dates, certainly are helping to make sales brisk for Development Resources Group.

With a month left before Halpin and Wear close on the sale of Echelon at Uptown -- located on Orange Avenue just north of State Road 50 -- the condo conversion project is 80 percent sold. And, there's not been a single advertisement placed or sign changed.

Condos at Uptown Place range from the $100,000s for a one-bedroom unit to the $400,000s for three-bedroom units with fireplaces and views of downtown. The conversion is slated to be complete in four months.

The story is much the same at Halpin's other three projects. Just eight of 36 condos still are available at North Pointe Place, which is scheduled for completion in September. The first phases at both Conway Crest and Delaney Court are sold out as well.

"People are waiting to get into these locations, and there is little competition in them right now," Halpin says. "Most downtown condo projects are two or three years away. Our projects are no-brainers for investors and buyers."

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