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A slice of New York City

It took years of planning and designing to craft the Merit — an Art Deco building inspired by the Empire State building and Rockefeller Center — and only 90 heady minutes to sell many of its condos.

‘You can buy a Kia or an Audi. They will both get you to the same place, but the ride is a bit different. This is not a box. It is a sculpted shape.’ Doug Casey, Charlesfort Developments

‘You can buy a Kia or an Audi. They will both get you to the same place, but the ride is a bit different. This is not a box. It is a sculpted shape.’ Doug Casey, Charlesfort Developments

Doug Casey is pumped. It’s less than 24 hours before the launch of his granite and stainless-steel tower that will sit directly across from Ottawa City Hall, and the gregarious, impatient developer is waiting for confirmation that he has crafted a winner.

The award-winning president of Charlesfort Developments should have known his carefully-designed Merit would be an immediate hit. After all, the top four floors, boasting eight spacious condos with spectacular views and equally spectacular price tags of $1.6 million, were already sold before his team officially rolled out plans and sales last Saturday.

There were another 12 sold stickers in the 74-unit condo before buyers started lining up at 6:30 a.m. on a balmy -16 C morning. They were patiently waiting for Charlesfort’s Bank Street sales office to open at 11 a.m.

“There weren’t a huge number, but they all came ready to buy,” says Wendy Bennett, director of sales and marketing for Charlesfort.

A scant 90 minutes later, eager buyers laid claim to 30 condos and by closing time on Sunday afternoon, there were only 19 condos left in the building that will stretch up 20 storeys, offering Ottawa a dramatic slice of Art Deco architecture. “It was wild,” says Bennett.

“It’s a bit of New York City,” an euphoric Casey said, while staff mopped up after the weekend frenzy, sitting down with buyers, confirming sales in the building, which will feature rooftop terraces and shiny black granite at street level.

The foyer of the Merit on Lisgar Street will be an elegant affair, with lots of marble, art and polished, stainless steel.

The foyer of the Merit on Lisgar Street will be an elegant affair, with lots of marble, art and polished, stainless steel.

Thanks to the fast sales, construction will start in June or before, with new owners arriving in the fall of 2013. Large and smaller condos sold first, with 1,866-squarefoot units starting at $861,000 still available. “There are still lots of great condos. They certainly aren’t chopped liver,” says Bennett.

Through the years, Casey has built townhomes clustered around a former school site in Old Ottawa South and homes with backyard garages off Baseline Road.

But this student of urban infill has excelled at designing distinctive downtown condos, starting with the Glassworks by the Queensway in 1983.

Casey has been thinking about the perfect Art Deco building since buying the site at the corner of Lisgar and Cartier streets more than three years ago.

“I have been percolating on this for quite a while,” says the 58-year-old developer, who began experimenting with a New York flavour of Art Deco several years ago, when he teamed up with Gord Lorimer and the Barry Hobin architectural team for the Hudson towers on Kent.

Casey fought a long, sometimes noisy, battle to have the Kent Street site rezoned from an imposing 12-storey building that would have taken up the site, blocking neighbouring views to winning approval for a pair of slimmer, taller towers with room for an urban garden and views of St. Patrick’s Basilica.

Next came another zoning challenge to build a secondgeneration Art Deco condo on Richmond Road, the Continental.

Then Casey zeroed in on the Lisgar site, which sits across the street from city hall and a few blocks from the canal, the Rideau Centre and the National Arts Centre.

Zoning allowed for 12 storeys, but last spring, the committee of adjustment approved the taller building, which was designed by Lorimer and refined by the Casey team.

Instead of a lower block, the Merit rises upwards, stepping in from the lot lines, displaying architectural details found on New York City’s iconic Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.

A few hours before the weekend launch, Casey’s silver hair was rumpled, his face flushed as sentences rolled out, explaining how the shape, the stainless steel, the black granite and precast concrete will add 20 to 25 per cent onto construction costs. They initially started at under $300,000, rising to $1.6 million.

“You can buy a Kia or an Audi. They will both get you to the same place, but the ride is a bit different,” says Casey. “This is not a box. It is a sculpted shape.” It is a shiny granite and steel Audi.

The inside of this granite and steel Audi comes with hardwood, granite and a host of green-building options.

Casey’s second-floor offices are dedicated to showing off the Merit, with a huge photograph of the marble lobby dominating a wall in the boardroom. Curved walls have been painted burgundy and the Merit is the star.

The most dramatic views are the night shots of lights shooting skywards up along slender concrete panels of the building. Even the mechanical guts of the tower, which are encased in concrete and glass on the roof will be illuminated in the night sky.

“All great cities light up their buildings at night,” says Casey. “New York, Prague.”

It’s all very sexy for Ottawa and a lot more interesting than the row of 12-storey buildings immediately to the south that create a concrete corridor along Cooper Street.

Casey doesn’t have many good things to say about the square, squat buildings. He’s a man of details and pushing the envelope when it comes to building urban condos.

The Merit is smaller and more sophisticated than Casey’s other Art Deco condos. It is filled with more fine finishes and is more expensive. “There is a ton of details,” says Casey, who brings home nuggets of design details while travelling with his wife, Cheryl and their sons.

He insisted on shiny black Cambrian granite to wrap around the first floor of the building, extending up seven floors on the northern side that will face city hall. Glass and a series of stainless-steel and ivory-coloured concrete struts rise above the main door to a garden terrace on the seventh floor.

“It would be a lot less expensive to build a simple box, but it would be a lot less interesting,” says Casey. “With this design, you have to take into account pressure loads of shaping the building. It is a sculpture.”

Casey learned an important geography lesson on the weekend. While buyers liked the architecture and the design details, it was the location and timing that were prime factors.

“They really liked the site and they can also think a few years out. They might not be ready to move yet, but they will.”

Moving is also in the long range forecast for Casey and Cheryl. He reserved a condo, partly because of the view, but mostly because of the large wrap-around terrace. “Cheryl loves to garden and there is room for her chives. It proves you can have everything downtown,” says Casey, who lives by in the Glebe.

While his staff is busy finalizing details for the Merit, Casey is looking ahead, but not yet ready to talk about his next downtown project.

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