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A Harbour Island Eden

Residents glowingly describe the growth of an suburban community in the city.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002


HARBOUR ISLAND -- In the mid-1990s, Harbour Island was known for the empty People Mover that fruitlessly connected it to downtown Tampa. Back then, few would have called it one of Tampa's hottest neighborhoods.

But that's just what it is today.

It took two decades for the residential vision of Harbour Island to come into focus, and by all accounts it's now a clear success.

The 177-acre piece of land on the edge of downtown Tampa offers urban conveniences in a gated community with a distinctly suburban feel. The yards are manicured, the streets are clean, and in the mornings and evenings, residents walk, jog and play in the park that runs through the center of the island. Private roads keep traffic to a minimum.

"I feel like we're on a resort here," says Linda Dolan, who moved with her husband, Bob, into The Keys, Harbour Island's newest community, just one month ago.

"I take a walk every morning, and every morning I think, 'This is so beautiful here.' "

She likes to sit on her porch and watch the cruise ships, pleasure boats, tankers and University of Tampa crew teams go by.

Doug and Eileen Weber moved onto Harbour Island in June from St. Petersburg. They live in St. Tropez, a collection of Mediterranean-style single-family houses and townhomes.

"We wanted a new house on the water, and we wanted the urban setting," Doug Weber says. "When we saw this, we fell in love with it."

Weber lists the reasons: "There's no maintenance, good security; it's close to good restaurants; it's on the water."

The Webers keep their boat docked in the slip outside their back door and several times a week indulge in cocktail cruises around the island.

Plus, he says it's a friendly community and very diverse.

"We have people pushing strollers. You have people who are retired, and you have people like us who are empty nesters," he says.

Linda Churchman is a veritable Harbour Island old-timer. She's lived there with her husband and two children for four years.

"We walk everywhere," Churchman says.

Dinner at Jackson's, a movie at Channelside, an afternoon at the Florida Aquarium, a hockey game at the Ice Palace -- all are within walking distance of Harbour Island.

The road to this urban idyll was a long one. It started more than 22 years ago when Beneficial Corp. bought Seddon Island, changing its name to Harbour Island in 1981. Ground was broken on the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel and the Shops at Harbour Island in 1983, and both were completed two years later.

At the same time, Beneficial began marketing the first residential communities -- the 200 condominiums at Seddon Cove and Harbour Court -- and in 1986, the first resident moved in. The Harbour Island Athletic Club opened in 1987.

Then, in 1996, everything changed.

Beneficial, later absorbed by Chicago-based Household International, began selling parcels of land to various builders, which ultimately helped to diversify the island's offerings.

"That's when it took off," says Traci Burns, a real estate agent for the Toni Everett Co., who also lives on Harbour Island.

The original plan called for residential areas to consist solely of condominiums -- more than 4,500 of them. But when the dust settles from the final construction, there will be about 1,000 condominiums, 500 single-family homes and townhomes, and more than 1,200 apartments.

Prices range from $120,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium to several million dollars for one of the 10 custom homes that are being built on a parcel called The Point, at the tip of the island.

Builders include Bayfair Properties, Centex Homes and Taub Florida Enterprises, Inc. The wider range of housing options appeals to a wider variety of tastes, says Brian Taub, owner of Taub Florida Enterprises Inc.

"All the developers introduced different products and different price ranges and it got very hot and everyone's benefitted," says Taub, who built St. Tropez and is now completing construction on The Keys, a group of Key West-style townhomes.

The waterfront homes in St. Tropez have nearly doubled in value since they were first sold four years ago. They're now going for more than $1 million.

In the mid 90s, the Shops at Harbour Island were closed and the building was reborn as office space and renamed Knight's Point, in honor of Tampa native son Charles Knight.

Burns and her family moved to the island from Carrollwood. They gave up the backyard and the pool, she says, but now she can push her toddler in the swings in Harbour Island's playground and swim in the pool at the Harbour Island Athletic Club. Plus, they live in a waterfront community where they can keep their boat docked within walking distance, even though their home is not directly on the water.

"A lot of people come to the island who have never been behind the gates," Burns says. "When they get back there, they're truly amazed."

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