From the Boston Herald:

Newly minted owners of the upscale condos at the Natick Collection were greeted with disturbing news this week: The project’s developer could go bankrupt.

“The people that are living here are very excited, but we’re a little nervous about ‘GGP’ stock,” said Linda Brownstein, referring to General Growth Properties Inc., the debt-laden Chicago firm behind the 215-unit Nouvelle at Natick.

Brownstein and her husband, Michael, got the keys to their million-dollar condo Oct. 31 and will make the move from Wayland next week.

With workers still putting the finishing touches on the $170 million project — first unveiled nearly five years ago — General Growth warned it has to rework over $1 billion in debt or possibly be forced to seek protection from creditors.

Experts say such a move could turn off potential buyers for Nouvelle at Natick, where only 29 units — or 13.5 percent of the high-rise complex — have received occupancy permits, according to Natick Building Commissioner Michael Melchiorri. The permits are needed for sales to be finalized.

Barry Nystedt of Buyer Brokerage Realty in Newton said he’d “urge a lot of caution” to any clients who were thinking of buying at Nouvelle at Natick.

“The concern, in simple terms, when you’re buying a condo is how healthy is the condo association,” he said. The property “is in the hands of the developer until most of it is sold off.”

The housing market is already tough enough, Nystedt said, so trying to sell condos ranging in price from around $400,000 to $1.6-million that are attached to a busy mall whose owner is in a pinch is harder still.

“If you’re a buyer, you’re going to be looking for a bargain and be less willing to buy after a bankruptcy than before, so you’d have to drop the prices to attract buyers,” said Victor Bass, a bankruptcy attorney at Burns & Levinson in Boston.

Melchiorri said the project’s general contractor, Dimeo Construction of Providence, R.I., is pushing to finish the job in Natick. Dimeo also built the Route 9 mall’s $370 million luxury expansion that opened in September 2007.

“They’re still working like hell,” Melchiorri said. “From what I hear, Dimeo wants to get (the condo units) done and move out of there so they can be done with the project.”

It’s unclear how many condo units have been sold or reserved. (A published report in May put the figures at 30 and 40, respectively.) Spokespeople for General Growth and its broker for Nouvelle at Natick, Boston-based Otis & Ahearn Real Estate, were not available for comment yesterday.

General Growth has already taken a financial hit on the project. In its third-quarter earnings report released Nov. 5, the company accounted for a $40.3 million impairment for “non-recoverable development costs” at Nouvelle at Natick.

Brownstein, who said her family was first in line for the project and picked a three-bedroom condo on the seventh floor, is undeterred.

“Because it’s pretty much fully paid for and the work is pretty much done, I don’t think it’s a major risk,” she said.

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