Tampa tops $1-billion in building

The milestone represents the record total of residential and commercial permits issued last fiscal year.

Published November 1, 2005

TAMPA - A boom in demand for downtown condominiums has pushed the annual value of construction permits in the city of Tampa past the $1-billion mark for the first time ever.

The number includes more than $356-million in residential and $689-million in commercial projects in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. It reflects actual costs for both new construction and rehabilitation projects and takes into account the rising prices of building materials.

It is nearly twice the value of permits granted in 2004, according to city officials.

"This shows the projects are actually coming out of the ground. It's not just somebody announcing something," said Cyndy Miller, director of the city's Business and Housing Development department. "Now you're going to see construction happening."

The building boom is not exclusive to Tampa.

St. Petersburg had a record-breaking year, too. The city issued permits for $413-million in new construction, the first year it has broken the $400-million mark. Since 2001, the value of total construction projects has increased by 66 percent.

"This city is on a roll, and the momentum is building," said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.

In Tampa, at least six condominium projects are under way in or near downtown.

"It represents a new tax base and jobs for our city at an unprecedented level," said Mark Huey, the city's manager for economic development. "All of those who are involved in development - whether it's developers, lenders, investors - they are viewing Tampa as a place to do business."

Mayor Pam Iorio has made a priority of downtown residential development and redevelopment of urban neighborhoods.

"We have really focused on smart growth - redevelopment of areas that have been economically challenged for many decades," Iorio said.

The Trump Tower and the Towers at Channelside, two major projects that will bring more than 450 units to the downtown area, account for about 22 percent of the growth over last year.

"It's a sound market right now. It's a residential market," said Page McKee, senior vice president at Hardin Construction Co. He predicted a boom in retail construction following the residential growth.

Construction began in February on Grand Central, a 392-unit, $38.8-million condominium complex on Kennedy Boulevard in the Channel District.

"It's a good market down here right now," said Grand Central developer Ken Stoltenberg. "There was a pent-up demand for urban living as we're seeing in cities all over Florida, including Jacksonville and St. Pete."

Still, not every permit translates into a new building.

"It's not a guarantee," acknowledged Miller.

Future projects could be stymied by the rising cost of construction materials.

"That's going to be a huge issue for other developments moving forward. Probably the biggest issue," Stoltenberg said. "We're happy we got stuff locked in where we did."

While city officials applauded the numbers Monday, developer Greg Minder predicted there will be even bigger numbers to come, but urged caution.

"We're very early in the development of downtown and Channelside," said Minder, whose 381-unit, $31.6-million SkyPoint tower is going up downtown. "We've only hit the tip of the iceberg."

But, he said, to keep the commitment of developers, city officials need to follow through on their plans to improve downtown living by completing the Riverwalk, redesigning Ashley Drive and building a new art museum.

"All of those things are going to be important to continue the growth," Minder said. "We don't want the city to think early success means long-term success."

--Times staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com