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Thriving city life is the goal

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002


IF YOU BUILD IT: The downtown that Petula Clark sang about certainly wasn't Tampa. Clark's classic ditty describes a downtown brightened by neon lights where you could "forget all your troubles, forget all your cares." These days, the desolation of downtown at night is more likely to depress than uplift.

But some city leaders think that doesn't have to be so.

Last week, the Tampa Downtown Partnership hosted a presentation on developing downtown multi-family housing into a plan to invigorate the heart of the city.

"If there's housing downtown, people stay downtown and spend their money downtown," said John Mullen, one of the speakers.

Mullen is president of the Morgan Group, developers instrumental in the residential growth of downtown Chicago. There, Mullen said, more than 34,000 units have been built since 1990.

Residential development of downtown areas typically begins with renovations of old buildings geared to young, single professionals, artists and others looking for a unique place to live, said Steve Maher. He is vice president of Garrison Partners, a company that provides market research on downtown housing.

The so-called "pioneers" of downtown living usually don't make a lot of money, and they want homes under $150,000. Once those folks are in place, Maher said, then businesses that serve them will arrive. That leads to the next phase: construction of high-rise condos commanding $1-million.

Is Tampa ready to begin the journey?

Perhaps. A handful of artists now roost in Channel District lofts. Harbour Island's success at the edge of downtown is a good sign. At 345 Bayshore, the apartment-turning-condo just a stone's throw from the business district, nearly 170 of 241 units have been sold. Construction began Oct. 4 on the Channelside 212 Lofts, where two warehouses are turning into 28 homes. They should be completed this spring. All but one have already been sold at prices ranging from $155,000 to $285,000.

"The need for more of this is obviously great," said Marie Preston, 212's listing agent. "The interest has been unbelievable."

Construction begins this spring on Victory Lofts in the Channel District, according to Nick Pavonetti of Beck, the project's developer. A warehouse built in 1925 to store automobiles will be converted into living and commercial space, and a new building will take shape along side it.

The new building will hold four live-work units, 43 flats, 23 lofts and 11 penthouses, ranging from $145,800 for a flat to $850,000 for a penthouse. Pre-sales begin in January.

With all this activity, it stands to reason that before long downtown Tampa will be, as Clark sang it, "no finer place for sure."

GOING CONDO: Hyde Park Ventures and Everett Realty have begun converting the 95 apartments at Hyde Park Place on Horatio Street behind Wilson Middle School, into condominiums. The $1.2-million renovation will result in 78 one-bedroom condominiums with 600 to 750 square feet priced in the low $90s and 17 two-bedroom condos with 1,000 to 1,100 square feet priced in the low $140s.

Amenities will include covered parking, a swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center and rooftop sun deck. The sales office is open. For information, call (813) 493-3277.

-- Write to Janet Zink in care of the St. Petersburg Times at 1000 N Ashley Drive, Suite 700, Tampa, FL 33602; or by e-mail, janet.zink@gte.net .

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