BRADENTON -- A midrise condominium building that went into foreclosure during the Great Recession and saw about half its original buyers pull out of purchase contracts is now a winner in the eyes of a state condo organization.
The Florida Communities of Excellence recognized a years-long comeback for the River Dance Condominiums by awarding it the "Community of the Year" honor at a gala event last week in West Palm Beach. That award, plus others for community involvement and the building's turnaround story, marks a new beginning in the sector of the housing market that took the worst beating.
Jeannette Graham, the River Dance condo association's manager, said the now-100 percent occupied building at 808 Third Ave. W. is finally paying off on its value promise to unit owners.
"Our property values are up 25 percent in past year," she said. "We have a fully funded reserve and we just did a remodel."
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The 115-unit River Dance has come a long way. It had a promising beginning when its developer broke ground on the banks of the Manatee River in downtown Bradenton in 2005. But the eight-story building quickly became a poster child for the housing market's downward spiral.
Its developer, Promenade at Riverwalk II, defaulted on a $28 million construction loan and 54 unit buyers backed out of purchase agreements.
Later, the condo association sued the developer for failing to complete the building. Only sparsely occupied in the interim, River Dance was vandalized repeatedly. Owners who did stay saw massive losses of
equity on units, some of which originally sold for more than $600,000.
Today, it's impossible to tell any of that happened. Fully occupied and recently remodeled, River Dance has attracted scores of retirees and professionals to live in downtown Bradenton. Units now sell between $250,000 and $400,000. Condo selling prices in Manatee County have been increasing incrementally for the past five years, hitting a median of $160,000 in March.
Alan Penchansky, Florida Communities' media representative, said the building's turnaround compelled competition judges to also recognize River Dance with the organization's "Comeback Kid" award.
His organization has been giving out the annual awards for eight years in an effort to raise the profiles of participating community associations. The program's founder is Tampa law firm Becker & Poliakoff. The firm specializes in community association law.
"The idea of recognizing communities for doing great things just resonates with the people in the business," Penchansky said.
Like many area condo buildings during the Great Recession, River Dance saw many of its units purchased by investors who in turn rented them out. At one time, building occupants ranged from upper-income retirees to families with children.
Graham said the current resident profile of the building skews heavily toward retired professional couples. Fifteen of the building's units are rentals, down from a high of 37.
John Horan, a condo owner who purchased a year before construction at River Dance, said he's appreciated changes for the better. A part-time resident when he first started living in his condo, he now considers himself a full-timer in Bradenton.
"The place came back," he said.
River Dance won a third award from Florida Communities last week for the volunteer efforts of its residents. In her application for the awards, Graham detailed more than 3,000 volunteer hours residents logged at the nearby Manatee Performing Arts Center and more than 2,000 hours of work at the Manatee Art Center. Forty building residents also volunteer with Realize Bradenton.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.