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Condo tower will be the tallest in St. Pete

Published October 17, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The extra height is not for bragging rights, developers insist, but to accommodate a more efficient air-conditioning system. Still, a new plan to build the condominium tower Signature Place to 390 feet would make it the tallest building in the city.

Signature Place would top the current tallest in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, Bank of America Tower, by 4 feet. The equivalent of an average 7-year-old or a tall hobbitt. Or Star Wars droid R2D2 in a top hat.

"That really wasn't the driver. We haven't used it as a selling point," said Joel A. Cantor, the developer building Signature Place, talking about the recently approved increase in height. "Before, we were the tallest residential (building)."

Plans originally called for the slim glass-and-metal tower at 100 First Ave. S. to be 366 feet high. If Signature Place slips past the Bank of America tower in height, it won't matter to the current record-holder.

"I suppose when you are the tallest building, you have the bragging rights to state that. I never really thought that much about it," said Dean Kucera, president of the company that owns the Bank of America tower, a commercial building.

"The Empire State Building is 1,000 feet taller than this building," Kucera said, referring to what sounds more like real bragging rights. (According to the Empire State Building web site, it rises 1,454 feet to the top of the lightning rod.)

"It is just a couple of extra feet," Kucera said of the new Signature Place height. "We are still St. Petersburg. It is not a big building."

Tampa already has three downtown buildings that top 500 feet. The tallest is 100 N. Tampa (the AmSouth building) at 579 feet. If the Trump Tower is built, it is planned to by 593 feet, which would make it the tallest building on Florida's west coast.

The extra height for Signature Place won't create any additional living space, though it may push up by a few inches the ceilings of the estate homes and penthouses at the top of the tower, Cantor said.

"We are putting in a more fuel-efficient air conditioning unit. It is higher and narrower," Cantor said. The extra space also will provide a little breathing room vertically, he said.

Signature Place will be 35 stories high and have 221 units. They will range in price from $450,000 to more than $7-million.

There is no absolute maximum height for buildings in St. Petersburg. However, several things figure in to how high a building can rise. The Federal Aviation Administration has a sayso because of the proximity of Albert Whitted Airport to downtown. Buildings cannot rise into the airport's flight paths.

Outside those areas, developers can "earn" additional allowances, including height, by doing things such as adding public art, using alternative energy sources and putting in more open space.

Several civic associations want height limited.

Karl J. Nurse, head of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, said Signature presents a conflict for him.

"I'm an architectural nut. Signature Place raises the architectural bar in St. Petersburg. I think it is a wonderful thing," Nurse said.

However, he believes there should be some height restrictions, particularly as proposed buildings get closer to existing neighborhoods.

Signature Place opened its sales center earlier this month. It is taking reservations, which require either a $15,000 or $25,000 deposit. Cantor said the project already has more than 150 reservations.

At the sales center, a butler serves French Champagne daily as prospective buyers look at floor plans and photographs taken atop a crane showing views from the various floors. Signature chocolates sit on the kitchen counter.

[Last modified October 17, 2005, 18:34:17]

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