Saturday, March 17, 2007 | 6:51 a.m.
If you want to know whether downtown Las Vegas really is turning around, watch what happens with a new midrise condominium project known as Verge.
The $135 million development is planned for north of Fremont Street, even north of U.S. 95. There it will teeter on the edge of two notorious nighttime locales, the Fremont Street Experience, known for drawing millions of tourists every year, and an area of Las Vegas few of those tourists would dare venture into past sunset.
Fernando Lozada has had a business in this section of town for nine years, Fuel Injection System, which is both the type of mechanical device he works on as well as the name of his business.
If Verge goes forward, Lozada says, he will be bought out, which is fine by him. He's not wild about the neighborhood. He closes the doors at 6 p.m. and doesn't like to be around after then.
"It's not good to be here at night," he says.
The Verge site, at Bonanza Road and Main Street, is within Las Vegas' redevelopment zone. But Verge is the first development to look into the area of that zone that lies north of the freeway.
It is a calculated risk.
Verge hopes downtown Las Vegas will flourish, and that potential condo buyers believe it has "turned the corner," as company President Darren Dunckel put it during a VIP party at the site this week.
"A revitalized downtown is no longer just an idea," Dunckel said. "It's no longer a thing just being talked about. It's happening."
The idea for the project emerged when Verge found an architect whose patent-pending design for modular building would decrease construction costs 30 percent from comparable projects.
The preformed sections, carried to the site and put together like a puzzle, would also speed construction time, said Lance Bazil, director of sales. Some estimates, he said, have put construction time for the 296-unit building at just over 12 months.
Prices range from $274,900 to $974,900 for one-, two- or three-bedroom units, and $1.2 million to $1.5 million for a penthouse. But 60 percent of Verge's units are under $400,000, with roughly 50 studio units going for $149,900 to $279,900.
"We feel very confident that there is a substantial market in that pricing range," Dunckel said, adding that Verge is being built without publicly financed incentives of any kind.
At the Verge party, housed under a massive white tent, hundreds of the curious downed free drinks and crab cake hors d'oeuvres while waiting in line to tour unit models in Verge's sales office.
The crowd - 1,200 people RSVP'd for the party - was younger, maybe "hip," and definitely serious, with lots of talk about buying a condo for investment or living. And unlike the scene at similar parties for the multiple other condo projects around the city, this one was decidedly local.
That, Bazil, said is what Verge was hoping for.
"Our marketing campaign said, 'Before we go public, we go Vegas,' " Bazil said. "When you look at high rises going up, a majority of them, if you drive by at night, there are no lights on. A lot of those are investments or second homes that sit vacant most of the year."
Reinforcing its targeting of local tenants, Bazil said Verge is going to house a grocery store and coffee shop within the 30,000 square feet of retail space on its first floor. "Those businesses have to be supported, so we have to get locals."
Both Bazil and Dunckel said the kind of people willing to live in Verge are going to be those who can handle urban living and can envision how it's going to change.
Certainly few people would choose the neighborhood if they thought it would remain as is.
"You've got to be comfortable with downtown living, with knowing that not everybody you're going to pass on the street is going to be in a business suit," Dunckel said, reaching for a euphemism any salesman could appreciate.
"That's why we put our sales office so close (to the construction site), so people can get a feel for it, and see that inevitably that whole area is going to be developed into things similar to ours."
Like the first paragraph says: As Verge goes, so goes downtown Las Vegas.