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DALLAS-A leading San Antonio architect and favorite son has grabbed control of a 1.3-acre tract after a year of wrestling for three historical buildings to plant a $67-million, mixed-use, signature project on the banks of the famed Riverwalk. The closing signals the start of condo sales and preleasing of retail space for Piazza San Lorenzo.

Larry Raba, a one-time chairman of the Riverwalk’s Historic Design and Review Commission, has spent nearly two years planning the development: 17,000 sf of river-level retail and restaurants; 30,600 sf of piazza-level boutique retail along with specialty fares like wine and cheese bars; 37,500 sf of office space; 25 for-sale condos; and 47 two- and three-bedroom fractional ownership units. Raba’s name is legendary in the city for masterminding a Hilton Hotel project that went up in a week with entire floors–all fully furnished–being set in place like “a Lego building” in a landmark feat that started his architectural career.

“This is his life’s dream. This will be his masterpiece,” says Brian Carlton, a director in Dallas for Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP, who packaged a $7.5-million bridge loan for Raba Design Group and RTK Development Co. to acquire the area’s last large tract for what is destined to become a Riverwalk cornerstone. Carlton says the 75% loan-to-purchase financing cleared in 11 days when Stillwater National Bank’s Frisco office picked up the ball after another lender started to stall on acquisition funding for the Book Building at 140 E. Houston St., Clegg Building at 130 Soledad St. and Solo Serve Building at 114 Soledad St.–121,353 sf of retail and office space built between 1906 and 1935.

After committing to the deal in three days, Mina Castaneda, vice president for the Stillwater, OK-based bank, set up a one-year, interest-only loan with a floating rate and beat the closing deadline by a day, Carlton tells GlobeSt.com. “Now, we can get the condo reservations converted to sales, letters of intent turned into leases,” he says, “and I can start moving on the construction loan. I think with the velocity of leases and presales that they’re going to show over the next couple of months that it won’t be a problem at all.” The marketing is launching with nine condo contracts in hand and 55 retailers wanting a piece of the action, according to Carlton. Three restaurateurs are vying for the river-level space, he says.

The developer has assembled 315 feet of the Riverwalk’s bank for Piazza San Lorenzo. The triple net quotes are $36 per sf for river-level retail and restaurant space; $24 per sf for piazza-level shops; and $18 per sf for office space on the second and third floors of the Book Building. Condos, averaging 2,800 sf, will be tagged at $300 per sf to $350 per sf. DB Harrell Commercial Real Estate Services of San Antonio is marketing the project, designed with a 16,000-sf piazza centerpiece. Bartlett Cocke, also a local firm, is the general contractor.

Carlton says the Riverwalk-fronting Solo Serv Building will be razed once construction financing is in place. Construction could start as early as September, with the first space turning over in late 2006. The tentative plan calls for completion in first quarter 2007. The razed building’s replacement product will have eight stories on the Riverwalk side and 11 floors along Soledad Street, all part of the condo and fractional ownership component, and two parking levels with 118 spaces.

Raba, who offices in the Book Building, spent the past year holding other would-be buyers at bay, including a joust in court over a first right of refusal. When the dust settled, Carlton says Raba, who had gone hard with a significant amount of earnest money, had 30 days to close the deal or risk a challenge by two others waiting in the wings with backup contracts. According to Bexar County Appraisal District, Goldstar Investments Ltd. of San Antonio sold the Solo Serv Building, which it bought in 1998, and the Clegg Building, acquired in 2000. Book Building Ltd. of Austin sold the East Houston Street property, bought in 2003.

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