Planes crop condo tower

St. Petersburg's 400 Beach Drive will have to be redesigned - a costly matter - but will begin as planned.

Published March 8, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The developer of a condominium tower planned for the 400 block of Beach Drive NE agreed to reduce the building's height Tuesday, after federal authorities said the design could affect some planes flying in and out of Albert Whitted Airport.

"We're going to cut it back 54 feet," said Jerry T. Shaw, senior vice president of Opus South Corp. in Tampa. "We comply with zoning, rules and regulations, and we want to be a good member of the community."

The project, named after its address, 400 Beach Drive, will have to be redesigned and condominium documents refiled with the state, Shaw said. The changes will be costly for Opus.

"It will have an economic impact. It's substantial. I really don't know how much," Shaw said.

The height problem would in no way endanger the project, however, Shaw said. Opus plans a grand opening for March 30 and is excited about the project, he added.

When the project was announced in January, Opus said the smallest units would be about 2,400 square feet, and prices would start in the $700,000s and go to $4-million for the most expensive penthouse. Nothing has been sold yet, Shaw said.

The original design numbered 30 stories but actually was 29 because of the elimination of Floor 13. It is the second high-profile project for Opus, which is building Parkshore Plaza in the 300 block of Beach Drive NE.

Reducing the height will eliminate the top-floor penthouse, Shaw said, as well as some architectural features for the roof. The change will reduce the number of units to 91.

The 400 Beach Drive look will be more contemporary than Parkshore Plaza. Interested buyers will see the new design without the top floor penthouse at the grand opening.

Opus bought the property from the John M. Hamilton family, which acquired it over 40 years. An earlier developer planned a grandiose condominium project there but failed to get it going.

Plans for 400 Beach Drive were tentatively approved by the city, contingent on the Federal Aviation Administration's agreeing to the height. The FAA did not agree, issuing a notice of presumed hazard on the building because of its proximity to the approach of Albert Whitted's north-south runway. It set the height at 316 feet.

"The FAA looked at it from a number of different perspectives and air space boundaries," said Richard Lesniak, manager of Albert Whitted.

The notice of presumed hazard was not the final decision but rather opened a 60-day period for negotiation, said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen in Atlanta. Lesniak said both the FAA and Opus were reviewing the situation, and the airport had hired a consultant to help on negotiations.

But Tuesday morning, Opus agreed to cut the height of the building to the FAA's number.

"We understood their concern. We listened to them," Shaw said.

The planned 370 feet would have affected 1 percent of Albert Whitted's flights, he was told.

Shaw said Opus felt it could design the building at 370 feet because Parkshore Plaza, in the next block, is not much shorter and was approved by the FAA. Shaw pointed out that Parkshore Plaza actually is closer to Albert Whitted, which is at 107 Eighth Ave. SE. But the site of 400 Beach Drive is closer to the north-south runway approach.


Albert Whitted Municipal Airport is owned and operated by the city.

The 110-acre facility handles about 100,000 general aviation aircraft takeoffs and landings annually and is the home base to an estimated 200 aircraft. The airport offers flight training, aircraft charter and rentals, aircraft maintenance and detailing, avionics, pilot supplies, banner towing and sightseeing tours.

In addition to private and commercial general aviation, Albert Whitted is frequently used by the Florida Highway Patrol, Civil Air Patrol, Bayflight and various organ transplant flying services.

Source: City of St. Petersburg