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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
The view from the unfinished north wing looks toward the nearly complete south wing at Midtown Village development in Orem.

OREM — Driving by Midtown Village, Orem residents still see bulldozers crawling across the lot and men and women in hard hats working on the project. But what they don't see are the finished three-bedroom penthouses with customized kitchens and private decks — some ready for residents within weeks.

"We've learned that this project cannot be understood by driving by it," said Midtown developer Larry Myler. "The comment we get with people coming in is, 'I had no idea.'"

Friday evening, nearly 4,000 people traipsed through the mixed-use development at 320 S. State during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hale Center Theater, which will be in the south corner of the Midtown lot.

"There are people who say they'd never live in a place like this. It's too tall ... or it's too expensive," said Dave Rasmussen, director of business development for Midtown Village. "There are others who walk in the door and fall in love with it (saying), 'It's perfect for me.'"

Nearly 85 percent of the 334 residential units have been sold, with prices ranging from $250,00 to $1.6 million for a sixth-floor penthouse with 4,106 square feet.

But isn't that a bit exorbitant?

"As long as people are buying it, it's not overpriced," Rasmussen said.

Betty Wiggins, 73, purchased two condos and had them joined by french doors. She and her husband used to live in a similar development in Arlington, Va., and since he passed away, she wants to simplify her life.

"The people over at Midtown have been very helpful," she said, "but it's dragging on a little longer than any of us wanted."

She was originally told she could move in by fall 2006. Then it became Christmas. Then spring 2007. Now she's thinking it may be January.

The delays are due mainly to funding, Myler said. The project was just a giant hole in the ground for years before construction began in 2005.

But lessons learned on the south wing will speed construction for the north wing and new Midtown-esque projects slated for Clearfield, Ogden and Park City, Myler said.

Rasmussen is hopeful some residents can move into the south wing by the first week of December.

The north wing should be completed in the next nine months or so.

Joyce Nelson, a recent retiree, took a tour of the completed penthouses Monday morning and said she was impressed by the full security, concierge and room service — and no need to mow the lawn.

"So far, from what I've seen, it's interesting," she said. "I think it's an interesting concept for Utah County. I'm kind of intrigued (at) the possibilities for having a different kind of retirement life."

She wandered through a one-bedroom apartment with maple molding, cherry hardwood floors and kitchen drawers that close themselves. A spiral staircase led to an upper loft with another bedroom, bath and a deck.

Of Midtown's 1.4 million square feet, 120,000 square feet is office space with the same amount for retail. Pizzeria 712 will be the first restaurant to open, firing up the pizza oven on Tuesday.

Chefs Joseph McRae and Colton Soelberg, formerly chefs at Sundance, wanted to start their own restaurant and started looking for places to go.

"We came and met (Midtown Village executives), and within 20 minutes, this is where we knew we wanted to be," McRae said.

Pizzeria 712, a full-service restaurant, will mimic high-scale cuisine but use local and organic ingredients.

"I think (Midtown Village) will improve Orem a million times," McRae said. "Once more stores open up, the Hale Center Theater, restaurants, a higher-end shopping center — it's a real draw. It's going to be a great asset for the community."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com