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Small but mighty

Glamorous condo towers grab headlines, but some builders prefer smaller projects on the southern edge of downtown and in other pockets.

Published April 23, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Judging by the look of Third and Fourth avenues S, you would think the bulk of residential building in the city is small townhome and condominium complexes.

In those few blocks, at least 14 projects represent some 175 new homes. Some have as few as four units; others have as many as 20. They're helping to rejuvenate worn areas of neighborhoods.

Yet that type of development is not the norm, and likely to get less so because of escalating land prices.

The bulk of new condo development can be seen in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, with seven of about 20 planned towers built. All told, they will bring thousands of new units.

Still, some builders go for smaller projects. Architect Tim Clemmons is a pioneer in the area. He has built several smaller complexes, including the 19-unit Charles Court at 325 Fourth Ave. S. Its two- and three-bedroom units sold for $220,000 to $345,000 when finished in 2004.

Clemmons said he is surprised that so many projects came so quickly to the area south of Central but said it makes sense.

"There is more vacant land downtown on the south side. Ultimately it is easier to buy vacant land than occupied land, where you have to tear down structures and assemble tracts.''

Jim Grittner is a partner in Las Perlas South Condominiums, which will be built at 512 Fourth Ave. S.

"What downtown needs is more smaller units so everyone is not living in a high-rise,'' he said.

Las Perlas will be four units with rooftop gardens and interiors of 1,550 square feet with two bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms.

Smaller is not necessarily cheaper. Las Perlas units will range from $365,000 to $400,000.

Buyers in these smaller complexes include empty-nesters, young professionals, people just getting into the housing market and investors. The allure for many who choose complexes close to downtown is the new face of the city with shopping, restaurants, entertainment, museums, parks and the waterfront within walking distance.

Smaller complexes aren't limited to south of Central. They are popping up along Central Avenue heading west and to the north in older neighborhoods such as Uptown, Crescent Heights and the Old Northeast and even out to Gandy Boulevard.

Jason Sanchez of JMS Group has six smaller residential projects going. He completed two in the downtown area in the past few years, Starlite, with six units, and Las Ventanas, with seven. Both are in the 600 block of Third Avenue S.

Starlite, with two bedrooms and two baths in about 1,200 square feet, sold for $150,000 to $175,000. Las Ventanas was sold out before construction started. The 1,600-square-foot units went for $230,000.

"We have a certain niche that we kind of created ourselves. We have become good at it. We've taken a certain amount of time to put it together,'' Sanchez said.

His company is about to begin work on Quatro City Homes, a live-work development that will have 12 mixed-use units and eight residential units. It will be built at Central Avenue and 16th Street N. Prices are in the mid $500,000s for commercial and residential units and in the $350,000 range for the smaller units.

Sanchez said he likes having several smaller projects working rather than one big one.

"I'd rather not put all my eggs in one basket. I'd rather do 10 different deals.''

Another of his small projects is Stella Court in South Pasadena, which has four three-bedroom units with 2½ baths and two-car garages. Prices range from $350,000 to $400,000.

Paul Mancinelli was an early builder on the avenues south of Central. He has five small complexes there.

His first was Eagle Court, a five-unit complex at 701 to 709 Charles Court.

"At the time I did Charles Court, it was a transition area,'' Mancinelli said of the neighborhood that includes All Children's Hospital, Bayfront Medical Center and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

"I wanted to see if something smaller at a reasonable price would sell.'' It did.

Eagle Court's units had two bedrooms and 2½ baths in 1,250 square feet. They sold in 2002 for $120,000 to $130,000.

Then came the five-unit Eagle Court II and the 14-unit Delmar Village, both on Fourth Avenue S. Nearby is Arlington Terrace, at 340 Fourth St. S with four units.

Delmar Village was finished in 2004. Its units are in the same design as Eagle Court. Sales prices were $160,000 to $170,000, higher because of land prices, Mancinelli said.

"I don't know if (anybody) will be able to build anymore downtown because of the price of property,'' he said.

He has a larger project underway on Fourth Avenue S, Arlington Lofts, which will have 26 units. The larger ones will have 1,300 square feet and smaller ones, 820. Prices range from $275,000 to $320,000, he said.

GHD Realty Corp. of Dade City has three finished projects on Fourth Avenue S in St. Petersburg: Victorian Oaks, with six units; Key West Cottages, two phases for a total of 14 units; and Bourbon Street Bungalows, nine units. Construction starts on a fourth, Lucaya Landings, in a couple of weeks. It will have 16 units.

GHD built Victorian Oaks four years ago. It is two buildings with two-story units, which are 1,800 square feet in three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms.

Larry Smith of GHD said sales prices were about $250,000 when the project was finished.

"At today's market, it would be about $480,000,'' he said. That rise includes appreciation and increasing land prices.

"The cost of land is the biggest constraint'' on smaller projects, Smith said. "To be able to buy a piece of land and make the numbers work, you have to go with as big a development as you can get.''

Smith said his company tries keep changes in floor plans to a minimum. One lesson learned from the first three projects, however, prompted change for Lucaya Landings: empty-nesters don't like to climb stairs. Lucaya will have elevators.

Keith Skorewicz lives in one of the Bourbon Street Bungalows. A former resident of New York and Boston, he prizes the space he has: 1,560 square feet, with three bedrooms, 2½ baths and a two-car garage.

"Fourth Avenue S is going to become the Hyde Park of downtown St. Petersburg. Residents will be able to walk from the waterfront to baseball.''

Unfortunately for Skorewicz, he won't be there as it blossoms. The bungalow is for sale because he works in Tampa and finds the commute too expensive with rising gas prices.

Sanchez of JMS said he cuts costs by trading with other businesses involved in his projects. When building Starlite, he negotiated with the designer, Greg Glenn, selling him a unit at a discount for free designs.

Glenn also is a developer and is building the Moderne at 663 Fourth Ave. S, which will have five units averaging 1,900 square feet.

Glenn said he likes being with the six-plus other small projects on Fourth Avenue S.

"The way it is changing the nature of downtown is pretty positive,'' Glenn said.

Construction on the Moderne has not started, but three of the five units are sold. They went for $440,000 each.

[Last modified April 23, 2006, 11:13:36]

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