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Lofty plans for urban living

Channelside 212 Lofts will turn two warehouses into funky loft living quarters, a hot trend around the country.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2002

The planned construction of an 18-unit loft complex in the industrial Channel District makes it harder to dismiss residents of the emerging urban village as chasers of a pipe dream.

[Marica McKeel/RBK Architects]
Kim Markham, longtime Channel District resident and booster, won't say she told you so.

But she comes close.

"Let's put it this way," she said. "Everybody who's moved down here, nobody's moved out. I don't know of a single family that's left."

And more residents are likely to move in after construction begins sometime in March on Channelside 212 Lofts. The project will refurbish two existing warehouses that stretch along the east side of 12th Street between Kennedy Boulevard and Washington Street.

The units, ranging in size from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet, will be priced from $155,000 to $315,000, according to developers.

Channelside 212 architect Marica McKeel of Ybor City's RBK Architects recently became enamored of loft living spaces, which have been a waxing trend in cities around the country. Now she says the concept has taken hold in Tampa.

McKeel, 24, says that lofts -- dwellings converted from warehouse space with exposed structural elements and industrially flavored textures and surfaces -- make the most sense in downtown environments.

"Nowadays, everybody works all the time," McKeel said. "So everybody lives and works kind of in the same space."

[Marica McKeel/RBK Architects]
This model of Channelside 212 Lofts by architect Marica McKeel of Ybor City's RBK Architects shows how lofts convert living quarters from warehouse space with exposed structural elements.
With Channelside 212, McKeel will give that concept an intriguing new twist. Interior space will become communal exterior, as she plans to cut open a lengthwise swath through the middle of project's main warehouse.

That will create two separate loft complexes with a communal courtyard between them. The original roofing trusses will span the gap, alluding to the space's enclosed origins.

McKeel describes the rest of exterior aesthetic as "residential warehouse." She plans to add lots of wood to surfaces wherever she can, to counteract the coldness of metal and concrete block surfaces.

The Channel District's evolution from a warehouse and light industrial area to urban village has been slow but steady. In the past decade a small band of residents has colonized the district, attracted by the prospect of homes merged with work space.

They've been joined in recent years by the Florida Aquarium, Ice Palace, Garrison Sea Port, and the Shops at Channelside.

"Everything is happening down here," Markham said.

"The movie theaters are here, new restaurants, cruise ship terminals, Ice Palace. We walked to Jimmy Buffett last night." Markham lives with her husband, Richard, and daughter Lilia in a warehouse loft on Meridian Street. The Markhams built 12th Street Park inline skate rink in 1997. It's now closed, but Richard Markham still runs a family medical clinic on its grounds.

McKeel has similar faith in the Channel District. She's not simply creating homes for other people; she's also creating her own home. The Tampa native will convert an adjoining small warehouse into her loft.

"As far as a neighborhood with a picket fence, it may not be," said McKeel.

"But it's definitely going to become an urban neighborhood."

- Michael Canning can be reached at 226-3408 or

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