“I want to build a community.”
Those might be lofty words for a real estate investor, but after spending an afternoon with Micha Alexander, it seems completely rational that he will achieve his development goals.
The owner of nearly a city block of prime downtown Tulsa real estate, the 26-year-old Alexander looks more like the recent University of Tulsa business administration graduate that he is than a slick, business savvy entrepreneur.
Alexander’s journey from machine shop owner to budding downtown real estate mogul began with the purchase of a single building.
“The first building I bought was the ‘Maverick’ building, where the Virginia Lofts are located. I bought the building with the intention of moving there,” he said. “Everybody has the dream of living upstairs and working downstairs.”
The Maverick building is on the northwest corner of Third Street and Lansing Avenue.
“I started my machine shop on the first floor and lived next to my machines,” he said. As I built my loft on the top floor and continued to run the shop below, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the space was too big for me and that I could fit quite a few separate rental units up there.”
“I eventually purchased more room for my shop because I felt the downstairs area was becoming too valuable as retail space,” he said. “It’s a long-term deal, but dividing the upstairs into the Virginia Lofts will eventually pay for the entire building.”
Alexander’s business, Maverick Machine, now operates in a renovated Lansing Avenue building immediately north of the Virginia Lofts. The Fringe Café occupies the space that once housed the shop.
The Virginia Lofts have been described by Alexander as being “in the shadow of downtown,” and consist of six, 700 SF apartments with hardwood floors and all-brick walls. He purchased the Maverick building for $325,000 and estimates that he has spent at least that much in building renovations.
Buying the Block
Alexander’s acquisition of the Maverick Building was the first of many he would make on the block that is bordered by Lansing and Kenosha Avenues on the east and west, and Second and Third Streets on the north and south.
In the past five years he has acquired Third Street’s 820 and 818 buildings as well as 220 Lansing Ave., the current Maverick Machine building. He purchased the undeveloped land on the corner of Kenosha and Second Street in 2005.
Alexander has a 10-year lease on the Third Street, 815 Building, the only structure on the block that he does not own.
The 820 Building is undergoing an extensive renovation and will open as Nolo, an Italian Restaurant, in early 2007.
The next-door 818 Building, home to the popular 818 Martini Lounge, is also closed and undergoing “a facelift,” Alexander said. Including the current renovation, he estimates that he has invested over $300,000 in the building, which includes two loft apartments. He expects the 818 Lounge to reopen Oct. 20.
According to Alexander, the purchase of existing downtown real estate comes with many challenges, the most intimidating of which is the renovation and conversion of old buildings into usable living or retail space.
“It’s been tough to rehab these buildings, there is so much that needs to be done,” he said. “You have to clean them up, the electricity might not be here, the gas might be faulty. So many buildings sat here for so long.
“I think that’s why a lot of people don’t go in and take on these projects – they don’t know how to do it. It could turn into a money pit. Fortunately, I grew up doing a lot of this stuff, so it’s an opportunity for me, as where some people see it as too much to deal with.”
When completed, Alexander expects to see Third Street as a center of local retail and restaurant space, anchored by Nolo and the 818 Lounge.
“I don’t necessarily want to attract national chains,” he said. “I would like to bring in local people. The challenge is that a lot of local people won’t have the capital to come in on the ground level and say ‘I’m going to take a chance on you.’ I have to build everything first.”
Key to the Community
Alexander’s current project includes the erection of 20,000 SF of residential space on one-half block of undeveloped land at Second and Kenosha – living space he believes will be unlike anything currently offered downtown.
“We’re doing a smart, modern design. We’re not doing a lot of unnecessary things. It’s going to be a cool, hip, simple, urban design,” he said. “The homes will be gated, and will have a sense of community. I will only build places that I would live in.”
The community will consist of seven loft homes. Each will include a garage, a small yard, 20-foot ceilings, and will sell for between $350,000 and $400,000.
The buildings will have a glass facing that will allow a view of the Tulsa skyline.
Alexander expects the residential construction to begin as early as February 2007 and anticipates few problems in selling the homes, which will cost just over $2 million to build.
“Just talking to people, I honestly think we could sell all of them before we build anything. There is a lot of interest,” he said.
He is hesitant, however, to place a deadline on the completion of his Third Street project.
“I hate to put a timeline on anything, because you never know,” he said. “But I expect Third Street to be substantially complete and full of tenants in about 3 years.” ?