Downtown Downer

When it comes to real estate, Monty and Marlene Wilson aren't exactly novices. Monty's a builder. Marlene has a broker's license.

But earlier this year, the Wilsons learned something shocking about the $479,000 condominium they purchased two years ago in downtown Phoenix: It came without parking.

Not just without covered parking. But without any parking — and that's for a pricey condo in the Orpheum Lofts, which sits in the busiest part of downtown, at the corner of First Avenue and Adams Street. It's practically impossible to find a meter free for lunch in the neighborhood, much less a spot to park for 24 hours.

In sales brochures, the condominium's developer, TASB LLC, promised buyers not just parking, but valet parking. Residents like the Wilsons say that parking was also promised in conversations with the developer and sales representatives.

For two years, they had it. But that's all about to change — and it's almost certainly going to get expensive.

In February, TASB sold the parking lot used by residents — and sold it without any requirement that the new owner take care of Orpheum residents. Now residents are looking at a minimum of $30,000 to buy a parking space from the new developer, even as the real estate market continues to flatline across the Valley.

The homeowners association is urging caution. A class-action lawsuit, they say, is just going to make things worse. But a vocal group of residents are in open revolt.

"We were told that with a two-bedroom unit, we had two parking spaces," says Marlene Wilson. "That was very important to us. We would have never bought something without parking in downtown Phoenix. And to find out we don't have parking — to me, that's fraud."

Of the half-dozen high-rise, high-end condominium complexes now in various stages of construction in downtown Phoenix, the Orpheum Lofts came first.

A renovation of the 78-year-old Phoenix Title and Trust Building, the project opened in 2005, studded with gorgeous Art Deco details. With its black-and-white tile floor and intricate, gold-accented elevators, the lobby could host a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance sequence. But the 90 units are strikingly modern, in a good way: brick walls, exposed ductwork, and kitchens worthy of the Food Network. It's easy to see why the spot has been heralded as the beginning of downtown's renaissance.

The place has had its problems. Homeowners association fees have doubled, and residents have been forced to pony up extra cash on top of that to cover costs. Despite hopes of retail and restaurants on the first floor, the only business onsite to date is a little shoeshine shop. The 2,668-square-foot penthouse, too, has yet to sell.

Many residents blame the developer, TASB LLC of Denver, and its local representative, Norm Sheldon. (Sheldon, who owns a home in Scottsdale, declined comment, saying his lawyers advised against it because of the strong possibility of a lawsuit against him.)

"The anger against Norm has been there since Day One," says David Staciokas, president of the homeowners association and one of the few Orpheum residents who doesn't criticize Sheldon. "People have expectations of what a luxury building should be, and because everything's not gilded in gold, they think it's Norm's fault. . . . This is just gasoline on the fire."

If nothing else, though, the developer is responsible for a major communication breakdown about parking. New Times spoke to nearly two dozen Orpheum Lofts owners. Many got the sales pitch from Sheldon at the time of their purchase. And, they all agree, they were told that parking was included.

That's true of the first wave of residents, who bought directly from the developer's sales team. It's also true of the second round of owners, who bought from others — and in many cases, paid more for their units.

Initially, the units were marketed as having 24-hour valet parking, based out of the lot next door. In media reports, TASB talked about doing a second phase, with a five-story parking garage, more retail, and more condo units. Until then, the valet was supposed to stretch the small surface lot to handle all 90 Orpheum owners.

Residents weren't thrilled with the service they were getting, however, so the homeowners association discontinued the valet after one year. That wasn't controversial; most people were happy to self-park in the lot.

But then came the news that TASB wasn't doing a second phase. Instead, the developers were selling off their excess land, including the parking lot, to Chicago-based W Development. (That company, which has no relation to the posh hotel chain, is also developing Summit at Copper Square, next to Chase Field.)

W's president, David Wallach, is planning a 32-story condominium called Omega, complete with retail and a parking garage, which will sit just west of the Orpheum Lofts. He hopes to open by 2009.