The building that houses Lorillard Lofts at 201 Price Road has been many things.
Currently, it's the site of a court-ordered auction of 25 residential lofts and one office condo, to be held 10 a.m. May 16.
The 216,000-square-foot building, which was a tobacco processing plant until about 15 years ago, sits on 10 acres next to the Lexington Cemetery and near downtown Lexington.
The lofts were developed by Rob McGoodwin, who seized on the idea of turning the building into a luxury 42-unit loft condominium development. By 2004, the project was slow going, and McGoodwin said the location — between a railroad, a cemetery and a bridge — was a concern to bankers. Nonetheless, he said then, such units in a bigger city would be in high demand. McGoodwin could not be reached for this story.
By 2007, Lexington was awash in condominium and loft fever, which included developments at the Nunn Building Lofts on North Martin Luther King Boulevard, South Hill Station Lofts and University Lofts on Bolivar Street and the 500s on Main.
Urban lifestyle was being richly touted, literally. Prices across the board ranged from tiny spaces for less than $100,000 to more spacious dwellings closer to $500,000.
Lorillard's condos were priced from $93,000 to $280,000. The development prided itself on offering a secure entry, covered parking, a fitness center, landscaped green space and private entertainment areas.
But the project never really took off. Many of the units were unsold and unoccupied.
In 2010, the Lorillard Lofts was a sort of gallery space for the decorated horses from Horse Mania 2010, a LexArts public arts project.
By 2013, the Lorillard Lofts building — once advertised as the ultimate in loft living, with space featuring polished concrete, granite counters and stainless steel appliances — was being considered for a homeless shelter, and nearby residents were irked.
Proponents said the advantages for being a homeless shelter included being behind a railroad line and the Leestown Road overpass, and that it did not directly border a residential neighborhood.
Of course, those also were the things that made it a difficult sell to bankers a decade earlier.
The homeless shelter idea eventually petered out when the city failed to support it.
Prospective buyers who padded through the lofts at the recent April 29 preview held by Indianapolis-based Key Auctioneers toured one 1,800-square-foot unit — being sold separately — with soaring ceilings, top-end finishes, glossy furnishings and a mini-gym with exercise equipment.
Then there were some units currently rented that were more casually lived in, with scattered pet toys and clothes on the floor.
What happened to Lorillard to take it from model homes to prospective homeless shelter to the auction of many of its units?
Fayette County property valuation administrator David O'Neill said he lowered assessments on many downtown condos after the real estate and financial market went soft. Lorillard isn't the only condo complex that has encountered stumbling blocks, he noted.
In 2013, 19 condos and 13 garages in the Kimball House Square development on South Limestone were auctioned to raise $2.4 million owed by developer JTM Holdings to Bank of the Bluegrass.
"There was some enthusiasm and a market for them (condos) ... and the market stagnated, and the market dried up," O'Neill said. "It's just now starting to respond."
The Lorillard condos, although true urban lofts in style with exposed brick and an industrial look, were "problematic," O'Neill said, because the building housed a limited number of owner-occupied units, and "you've got no critical mass of property owners in there."
Also, he said, the building's location continues to frustrate. As potential buyers toured available units recently, a train came roaring past a living room window, prompting one buyer to wonder what that would be like as background noise all the time.
"The recession hit at just the wrong time for nearly all of the downtown condo developments," O'Neill said. "All of them have had varying degrees of difficulty. The Kimball House, Lorillard and 505 West Main, having fared the worst."
At the height of the market, downtown condos were selling for $300 a square foot. Those prices dropped on average by nearly half, and then went up to more than $200 a square foot, according to the PVA.
Realtor Larry Freels, president of the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors, said that "more than anything, it (the Lorillard project) is a victim of timing."
Historically, condos never have been a big part of the Lexington market, coming in at only 5 percent to 6 percent of total homes sold.
"When a complex comes online it puts a whole lot in the market at once," he said.
Sometimes the market laps it up, as has happened with condominiums at destination spots such as Beaumont and Hamburg, Freels said.
Although the Lorillard project offered a distinctive loft style that Freels said is in demand by a segment of buyers, he said the project stumbled because the market went limp.
It was more about timing than about what the developer offered, Freels said.