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Real Estate / High-Rises

Houston’s Most Expensively Fabulous High-Rise Yet?

A Bold New Tower Bets Big on the River Oaks Crowd’s Rich Drive

BY // 08.25.16

Sitting in his spotless boardroom, clicking through beautifully-crafted artistic renderings on a big screen, Giorgio Borlenghi swears he can see the future of Houston. It’s a future full of promise and fantastical buildings that stretch to the sky — and dare you to dream. It’s certainly not a future dominated by fear and economic dread.

Borlenghi, the always impeccably dressed, seasoned high-end developer with the gentleman’s air that so endears him to his River Oaks clients, refuses to see that type of future. No matter how many people tell him it’s coming.

Borlenghi’s bet on Houston’s future happens to be a little more forceful and bold than most. It’s a new 26-story high-rise close enough to River Oaks’ official boundaries to blow it a kiss. It’s a vision of arguably the most plush (and expensive) building in Houston. It’s a place where the median price of purchasing a unit will be $3.2 million — and the city’s rich won’t balk at making that commitment three years out from opening because they believe in the man from Milan who’s been developing significant buildings in Houston for 38 years now.

Giorgio Borlenghi
Giorgio Borlenghi is making big bets on Houston. (Photo by Jenny Antill)

“Every building is better than the one before,” Borlenghi says of his developments. “We always learn something. This one really wants to be special.”

This one is called Villa Borghese, named after the largest public park in Rome, a wonderland of fountains and museums. Considering that Borlenghi just recently opened The Belfiore, a new 26-story high-rise on Post Oak that nearly sold out, the new place has a lot to live up to. In order to ensure that happens, Borlenghi purchased a full city block on Bammel Lane between West Alabama and Westheimer more than a year ago. A full wedding venue, The Gardens of Bammel Lane, and several small businesses and cottages stood at the site.

All that space will now go to 46 total residences (two condominiums per floor here only) that start at around 4,800 square feet and grow larger, all the way up to the 8,600-square-foot penthouses. “Those are always the first to go,” Borlenghi says.

Construction will not begin on Villa Borghese until half of the 46 condos have gone. A 50-percent presale is Borlenghi’s threshold for sending the cranes in. The plan calls for that to happen in nine months, which would put the building on track to open in 2019. By then, Borlenghi figures it will be greeted by a much more robust and optimistic Houston.

Of course, with where he’s building and who his clients happen to be, there might not be much oil-spooked fear to begin with. “In Houston we have this bad habit, in my opinion, of putting homes together, of putting apartments together, of putting condominiums together,” Borlenghi tells PaperCity. “This is a very different type of property. Homes in River Oaks cannot be compared to homes in West Houston in the sense that they are different markets.

“In our opinion, people that are buying homes in River Oaks are not as affected by the oil economy as other people.”

If you have River Oaks money, you’re probably not just another ho-hum Houston millionaire. You can still reach for anything grand that your heart desires.

Borlenghi’s ears tell him plenty of people in his circle desire a Villa Borghese. Certain individuals and couples, many names that regularly appear bold-faced in Houston’s society columns, have been urging him to develop this type of building in this part of town for years. Some have practically insisted on it. This is building by popular demand — of Houston’s One Percent.

Villa Borghese's dramatic pool makes a big splash.
Villa Borghese’s dramatic pool will make a big splash.

Borlegnhi, whose Interfin Companies developed the Granduca hotel, calculates that Villa Borghese’s neighborhood and the size of its units will give River Oaks stalwarts looking to “downsize” permission to embrace such a move. “Going from a 12,000-square-foot house to a 2,000-square-foot condominium is not feasible,” he says.

But moving into a near 5,000-square-foot condo with a 24-7 guard house, 24-7 valet parking, and 24-7 concierge service just may fit a tycoon’s lifestyle. Especially if it’s a distinctive building with unique lighting on top that makes it stand out in the sky, an exercise gym that overlooks a sparkling pool, and a garden that is its own private retreat.

“These are custom homes in the sky,” Borlenghi says. “This level, this type of buyer, really wants to personalize them.”

With that in mind, the new high-rise will let future residents purchase their units in everything from the slab (the concrete only, every single decision from electrical outlets to the walls is the homeowner’s to make) to the white (all the walls are filled and electrical and air conditioning is put in, but every decorating decision is the homeowner’s or their designer’s to make) to fully finished (with high-end appliances, plush flooring, and all the wall treatments done).

Like all of Borlenghi’s buildings, when one opens the front door of any Villa Borghese residence, one will be greeted by plenty of blue — and clouds. “I think it’s important that when open your door, you see the sky,” Borlenghi says.

All the better to dream. It’s much easier to see Houston’s bright future from way up here.

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