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A $10-million upgrade

The area around an old, abandoned restaurant on Fourth Street is emerging as a vibrant collection of restaurants, shops and upscale living.

By SHARON L. BOND, Neighborhood Times Business Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- It is a small area, little more than 3 acres. When construction is complete, however, it will represent a large private investment -- $10-million -- in Fourth and Fifth streets N near Crescent Lake.

One developer is making an Outback Steakhouse and other stores out of the long-vacant Bradford Coach House that fronts Fourth Street. Next door, on property facing Crescent Lake, another developer is planning townhomes with a starting price of $475,000. That is a new price range for the neighborhood, but a representative speaking for the investment group says there already are potential buyers.

With the changes will come increased traffic, greater density and a different look.

Of the $10-million total, about half is being spent to renovate the old coach house into a building for an Outback Steakhouse, Optical Outlets, a Panera Bread cafe and a second floor of offices or studios. The renovation will be about $2-million and interior build-out by Outback another $2-million, said developer Clark D. East.

Outback's opening date is set for July 30, said Stephanie Amberg, spokeswoman for Outback in Tampa.

East, partner and director of real estate for Boyd Development Co. of Ocala, also has the adjacent parcel of land that used to be a seasonal sales lot for Christmas trees and pumpkins. He said he is talking to several prospects for more business there.

As for the residential element, 11 townhomes represent a potential $5-million in sales. They will be built behind Outback, nine of them facing Fifth Street N and Crescent Lake. Sales prices will be from $475,000 to $500,000 for the two-bedroom homes that will average about 2,500 square feet, said John A. Bodziak Jr., an architect who represents the local investment group planning the townhomes.

"We hope to start construction by mid July," Bodziak said. "We should finish the first four units in four to six months. If we are doing well (in sales), the second phase will come out of the ground." Bodziak said there is serious interest in several of the units already.

The townhomes will be built in the Mediterranean style with two-car garages, front decks for the lake view and lots of glass. Some of the units will have dens.

The neighborhood around Crescent Lake is "quiet, natural, kind of charming, friendly, shady," said 8-year resident Bob Clydesdale, who owns a 1925 house. "It's like a kind of jewel."

He is not, however, opposed to Outback or the planned townhomes.

"Anything that will help increase the property values and stature of the neighborhood is great," said Clydesdale, who also sees the townhomes as a buffer between the commercial and single-family homes.

"We'll make $10-million on a piece of property that has been vacant for 10 years," said Clifford Holensworth, president of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association. He is not involved with the development but was speaking of the improvement to the neighborhood.

Bradford Coach House was a restaurant run by the Bradford family for 30 years. They closed it in 1990. It was used by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club for more than a year afterward but since has stood vacant. At least one plan for re-opening it surfaced but never materialized.

A local investment group called 1900 Coach House Partners Inc. last year bought Bradford Coach House and the land for the townhomes. Since then, the group sold the coach house property to East and Boyd Development Co., who are developing it for Outback. The investment group, represented by Bodziak, is continuing with the townhomes.

The 11 townhomes will be built on five lots. To make way for them, two houses that were sitting on three lots to the south of 19th Avenue were torn down. The avenue has been closed for the projects. The other two lots are to the north of 19th Avenue, behind the Bradford Coach House, and are vacant.

Holensworth said he is looking forward to the changes. The projects' developers have met with the neighborhood association to get design approval. However, the planned townhouses do not look anything like the older houses around Crescent Lake. Their planned sales prices are much higher than what most homes there would bring, although prices in the neighborhood are rising, Clydesdale said.

Holensworth pointed out the new Crescent Lake CityHomes on both sides of 14th Avenue leading down to the lake as a sign of change in the neighborhood. Those homes have a different look, and prices are higher.

Crescent Lake CityHomes has 11 completed homes, of which 10 are sold. Two more are under construction. They are in the neoclassical or neotraditional style, said Ray Easterlin, president of Florida Properties, the developer and owner of the project.

"They are kind of a throwback," Easterlin said. "They have a veranda in front. The houses are close together. They have narrow lots with small back yards.

"I've seen nothing in the whole area that looks like this," he said.

Prices range from $299,500 to $414,500, Easterlin said. Eleven are in the Charleston model with just over 2,000 square feet and four bedrooms. The two now under construction will be larger.

Holensworth believes the Easterlin project fits in well with Crescent Lake.

"When you walk down that street now, it's beautiful," he said of 14th Avenue. "It's its own little street."

Holensworth, who has lived in Crescent Lake for 22 years, said property values could "skyrocket" once the $500,000 townhomes are built. Already he is hearing of increased asking prices.

Concerning traffic, Holensworth said there will need to be some sort of crosswalk for safe passage from Sunken Gardens, now being revitalized by the city and soon to be home to the Hands On Museum. A Carrabba's Italian Grill also plans to locate there.

Michael S. Novilla lives on Fifth Street N near the steakhouse/townhouse construction area and is worried about traffic invading the neighborhood. He also owns numerous rental buildings and houses on Fifth.

Holensworth and Clydesdale both said they did not believe traffic would be an issue because vehicles coming to and leaving Outback will have to use Fourth Street N because 19th Avenue has been closed.

But an alley runs between Fourth and Fifth streets near Novilla's property and 19th Avenue. He is concerned diners might use that to leave Outback, for example, bringing streams of traffic into the neighborhood.

"It's going to be a mess," he said, unless the alley is closed.

But Novilla, too, thinks the new projects will benefit the neighborhood. Already he has been approached about selling some of his property, which he is not inclined to do.

"Not unless somebody shows up with a ridiculous amount of money," Novilla said.

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