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Turnaround at Treetops.

Turnaround At Treetops

Condominium Complex's Occupancy Near 100 Percent After Years At 50 Percent, But Developer Sidney Weniger Vows To Bust Recent Sales

When Treetops was completed in 1981, developer Sidney Weniger hosted a "topping-off" ceremony for the high-rise Little Rock condominium complex.

A crane hoisted a small pine tree in a bucket to the top of the 11-story building. In the bucket were a Razorback doll, a piece of Arkansas quartz, wine and corn.

Corn, according to Woden, the supreme god of Norse mythology, is a charm against lightning.

It must have worked.

A decade has passed, and lightning has never been a problem at Treetops.

But marketing has.

So have misconceptions and high prices.

Not to mention Weniger's personal bankruptcy.

The 50-unit luxury complex, built for well-to-do Little Rock residents desiring security and amenities, is filling up.

But one problem remains.

Weniger claims his pending lawsuit against his bankruptcy trustee could revert ownership of 32 units to him and leave new Treetops owners out on a limb.

Weniger's court date is set for August.

For now, though, competitive pricing and a growing list of residents are boosting sales at the complex, a part-time home for the likes of Sen. David Pryor and Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.

"Success breeds success," says Marcelline Giroir, the real estate broker for Treetops. "If you have a 50-unit building and only 18 of the units are occupied, it creates questions. Now, the enthusiasm of our tenants and owners is working for us."

For several years, Treetops had no more than 18 property owners.

In the past seven months, more than a dozen units have sold.

It was just eight months ago that a Chicago bankruptcy court approved the sale of units in the complex.

Are fire-sale prices moving the units, as Weniger alleges?

Or is this upscale property finally catching on?

Weniger Loses Units

When Treetops was built, it was the first high-rise residential building Little Rock had seen in 15 years. The price tag was an estimated $9.5 million.

It was one of several Little Rock properties owned by corporations belonging to New York's Weniger.

Due in part to the 1986 demise of FirstSouth Savings and Loan, Weniger and several of his companies filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 1987.

Wengroup Treetops Corp., which owned Treetops, was not part of the petition. In fact, Weniger managed to hold on to Treetops until his bitter financial end in July 1990, when he was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

It was then that Treetops was pulled into court as one of Weniger's assets.

One misconception is that Treetops went through foreclosure. Such was not the case.

But as a result of Weniger's bankruptcy, the 32 unsold units became the responsibility of bankruptcy trustee Joseph Baldi of the Rosenthal & Shanefield law firm in Chicago.

Of the 32 units, four were given back to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the liquidator for FirstSouth, which held a $5.9-million mortgage on the property. One of the four FDIC units sold, and two were leased. One remains vacant.

Of the 28 units in Baldi's care, 13 have sold, one sale is pending and the remaining 14 units are leased.

Baldi says Weniger's asking prices were too high.

"They weren't attracting many offers," he says. "We revised list prices and leased some units to fill up the building. We're pleased with how sales are going. We think we've found the right market price."

Obviously, business is brisk.

"I spend a lot of time here," Giroir says.

Weniger had a reputation of not being willing to negotiate on price and preferring not to lease units.

Some leasees have turned into owners, Giroir says.

Baldi, who must approve offers Giroir sends his way, doesn't think he's giving units away.

Deeds reveal that one unit sold exceptionally cheap at $28,500. Two others went for about $60,000 each. But those were exceptions.

One unit sold in December for $205,000. Prices on units sold in 1991 range from $107,000 to $175,000.

When Treetops opened, it was reported that units would sell for between $120,000 and $195,000. The two penthouse suites were advertised at $275,000 and $365,000.



By Little Rock standards, Treetops was certainly ahead of its time.

A Reason To Move

Alan, Treetops' uniformed doorman, opens the door for guests and residents alike. It feels like one of those New York apartment buildings portrayed in the movies.

A visitor may be offered coffee and a newspaper while waiting in the lobby.

Rhonda, wearning a conservative navy suit and pumps, is in essence the concierge. She'll collect residents' mail while they're away. She calls upstairs and gives a message to Mrs. Lamb from her husband, who is detained in the lobby.

"It's a great place to live, a wonderful lifestyle," says Lewis Lamb, president of Treetops' property owners association.

Lamb and his wife were among the first Treetops owners when they retired there nine years ago.

"A lot of people don't realize what they're missing," Lamb says. "The property has never been depressed. It has never had financial problems. In fact, we add something almost every year."

The property owners association has an annual budget of $206,000. The money is used to pay employees, make repairs and implement the complex's 10-year plan. Next year, for example, will see new carpets installed in the common areas.

Lamb credits Weniger for Treetops' quality of life.

"This was one of his pet projects, and he took care of it," Lamb says. "He took a special pride in Treetops."

Weniger was responsible for paying monthly common area fees on all the units he owned.

"He always paid his part," Lamb says. "He always voted for improvements. He would cut a check when it meant improving the property."

Although Weniger could have cast a vote for each unit he owned, he cast only one.

New residents such as Cynthia Mason are reaping the benefits of Weniger's love for his pet project.

"Every morning, I'm afraid they're going to tell me my week is up and ask me to check out," says Mason, a longtime Heights resident.

Mason and her husband now spend half of each year in San Miguel, Mexico, and the other half at Treetops.

Bill Cravens, another longtime Treetops resident, says Weniger wanted to show the people of Arkansas what New York condominium living is like.

"He had a lot of energy," Cravens says. "It's a first-class place to live. There's a great deal of momentum surrounding the property now, and it's justified."

Bud Whetstone, a Little Rock attorney, recently moved from a prestigious Edgehill address to Treetops. In fact, he bought Weniger's old unit.

Whetstone recalls moving day, when he met Weniger.

"He was very emotional," Whetstone says. "He said he loved standing on the balcony from which he could look out over a large part of his holdings."

Weniger may be missing the view, but new residents are enjoying it.

"Nobody's ready to leave," Lamb says.

PHOTO : TOP OF THE LINE: Marcelline Giroir (left) is the rest estate broker for Treetops, the high-rise, high-class Little Rock condominium complex completed in 1981. She speaks with Daisy Lamb, a resident of the revitalized development.

Kelly Ford Arkansas Business Staff
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on Weniger's opinion; occupancy rate of condominium complex is up but developer Signey Weniger questions sales
Author:Ford, Kelly
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 8, 1991
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