Updated: Sun, 02/03/2013 - 12:35

Drayton Tower revival: Refurbished iconic apartment building leasing units again

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Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News - Community Manager Jason Taylor looks out the window of the living room of a 12th floor 2-bedroom apartment at Drayton Tower Apartments.    Savannah Morning News
Savannah Morning News
Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News - Community Manager Jason Taylor looks out the window of the living room of a 12th floor 2-bedroom apartment at Drayton Tower Apartments.

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The Drayton Tower memoir reads as part comedy, part tragedy.

The next chapter in the iconic downtown building’s history promises to take on a different tenor.

Tenants moved into the first of 99 luxury rental units in the refurbished tower Friday. The 52 apartments on the top four floors of the 12-story glass-and-concrete building are move-in ready, with the rest due to be completed by the end of March.

The units range in size from 406 square feet to 1,006 square feet and feature a clean, modern look, complete with concrete floors, exposed ceilings and the latest in kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

Eleven of the units have already been leased despite the absence of a marketing push or even a leasing office.

“Anyone who was going to take this project on was going to be contending with a checkered past, so we’re pleased with how well it’s been received without us putting our full effort into leasing yet,” said Ken Copeland with FLANK, the Manhattan-based development firm that purchased much of Drayton Tower last June. “Once we start marketing it and the city realizes the work is done and very real and not just another sad chapter in the saga of the building, we’re going to see spectacular momentum.”

 

Strange saga

Drayton Tower was built in 1951 as the Drayton Arms and featured 188 efficiency apartments. Many of the units measured less than 400 square feet.

The original developer targeted veterans and other low-income tenants. Over the decades, its reputation ranged from trendy to downtrodden. The property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, and soon after a local development group bought the building for $9.75 million.

That group, known as DrayProp, gutted the interior with an eye toward turning the property into a luxury condominium complex. Downtown condos were in high demand at the time, although only a handful were completed prior to the recession’s onset, leaving the building largely unfinished and unoccupied.

DrayProp’s financier, Darby Bank, retook possession of the unsold portions of the building in late 2009.

FLANK paid $3.8 million for the bank’s part of Ameris Bank last June. The architectural and development firm’s leadership includes two South Carolina natives. Copeland grew up in Columbia, and his parents live in Savannah.

FLANK turned Drayton Tower into a “full-service urban building” along the lines of those found in major cities such as New York. A doorman will occupy the lobby after hours. The concierge services include a business center, a gourmet coffee bar, valet dry cleaning and a fitness facility.

FLANK also corrected many of the heating, cooling, plumbing and sewage issues that long plagued the building. FLANK’s Copeland declined comment when asked about the dollar amount the developer has invested in the property since buying it.

Lease rates, which include utilities and all amenities except the fitness center, range from $1,050 for a studio to $2,500 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit. The uniqueness of Drayton Tower — particularly the views provided by the floor-to-ceiling windows in each apartment — has driven leasing interest thus far, said Khrista Villegas with Greystar, a property management company.

The first tenants are a mix of young professionals, students and retirees, on-site property manager Jason Taylor said.

“There is demand for that kind of luxury product in Savannah,” Copeland said. “There aren’t any other buildings of this size and you don’t see these types of finishes, except in some much smaller projects.”

 

Welcome rebirth

Drayton Tower’s new residents won’t have to wait long for new retail neighbors.

FLANK terminated or did not renew the leases of most of the ground-floor retailers upon purchasing the building. Only Rob’s Salon remains, although at least two of the four vacant spaces are expected to be filled within 60 days.

Deals are yet to be finalized, but tenants are expected to include a locally-owned coffee house — not a Starbucks as has long been rumored. The space on the east end of the Liberty Street facade is currently a construction office and will eventually be home to a restaurant.

The former Harris Baking Co. space, meanwhile, will be converted into the building’s fitness center.

“There is going to be a neat and exciting mix of tenants in there hopefully in less than 60 days,” said Jason Smallwood with AVTEX Commercial Properties, the firm handling the retail leasing. “FLANK wanted to have unique retail that complements what they are trying to accomplish with the residences above.”

Drayton Tower’s rebirth is being seen as a boon for the surrounding neighborhood and all of downtown. The building will eventually house 150-plus residents, many of them financially affluent, judging by the lease rates. Among those “very bullish” on the new Drayton Tower is the owner of Parker’s Market, a gourmet convenience store located a half block north of the building.

“The demand for their product exists, and I think it will be very successful,” Greg Parker said. “Savannah needs more density. I am excited for Parker’s Market but also for Savannah.”

Echoing Parker’s sentiments on the importance of increasing the number of downtown residents was Daniel Carey with the Historic Savannah Foundation. He also appreciates the improvements made to the building’s exterior, particularly the trademark green windows.

“It is an important building,” Carey said. “It’s such a juxtaposition to all the other buildings in the landmark district, and it’s something we have come to appreciate and respect.”

 

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