Slammer goes condo

Several months ago my apartment complex posted a sign on an announcement board near the leasing office:

WE'RE NOT GOING CONDO - YOU DON'T HAVE TO EITHER

This message was a relief, as the Tampa Bay area has been rife with apartment-to-condo conversions - the apartments across the street from my own underwent the conversion, albeit not very smoothly.

Tampa's converted properties have not been the great success that those in real estate hoped, but the same cannot be said for the hottest market for condo conversions, New York City. But when housing properties are at a premium, conversions have to come from more varied sources.

Quick: what structure do you think could least likely be converted into luxury condominiums?

The answers could be endless (and fun), but it's likely that it wouldn't take too many guesses to land on precisely what one company is doing.

The upcoming 10 Mount Morris Park West building in Harlem was once known as the Parkside Correctional Facility. Yes - prison-to-condo conversion.

So when you're turning the big house into a house there should probably be some rules, right? Here you go, taken and paraphrased from the article:

1. Pick the right neighborhood (prisons aren't usually in the pretty part of town)

2. Allow some time to pass (Parkside closed seven years ago, despite surprising protests from neighbors of the facility)

3. Make sure nothing says “penal institution" (seems sensible enough)

4. Preexisting architecture might get in the way (low ceilings, very few windows)

5. Keep the neighbors quiet ("do you know what that used to be?")

I think the last rule may be a bit hasty. The history of the prison may prove a lure for potential male tenants - Parkside was a women's prison, and we all know what a lot of men think of women's prisons.

I say it's a great idea that other hot real estate markets should consider. San Francisco, for example - I can hear it now: Escape to Alcatraz - for truly exclusive living.

Euro-sniffles

Let everyone else fret about avian flu - Europe has hay fever to worry about.

Experts say that allergies are such a problem in Europe as to soon reach epidemic levels. The levels were highest in most of the UK (along with other English speaking countries like the US, Canada and Australia - that's what we get for having the world's language). Though hay fever won't soon be called the New Black Death, the problem does mean expensive medical bills and sick days from work.

That leads me to mention that in one week in Venice my wife and I - both susceptible to allergies - saw nothing like watery eyes, runny noses or sinus headaches. With nothing in the way of car exhaust and little plant life Venice is definitely the allergic's dream European city.

Those prone to sea-sickness should however steer clear.