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Pinellas Park booms into an attractive place for families

By PAUL SWIDER
Published May 5, 2007


PINELLAS PARK - This city's renaissance has been predicted before, but Pinellas Park is now seeing more than just expectations, it's seeing bricks and mortar.

"People are seeing they can get a piece of land they can afford for their custom-built home," said George Lewis of Broderick and Associates, which has been involved with a few midsized developments in the city. "It's evolution."

Long mocked as a trailer-park haven and "penniless park," the central Pinellas city has seen about 1,000 new housing units built in the past five years. As property prices in marquee cities like St. Petersburg and Clearwater have gone through the roof, Pinellas Park has become an attractive place for large-scale developers like Beazer and Rottlund, but also for those who build smaller.

"There's a lot of competition here now," said Stuart Cohen, whose American Housing has been building in the city for 20 years. "Pinellas Park has just become fashionable."

Centrally located on high ground with ready access to major roadways and a short drive from population centers, the city has built-in assets, said Assistant City Manager Tom Shevlin. The city also has a ready supply of industrial land so it is home to employers, he said.

"We had a lot of underutilized land and a fair amount of vacant sites," said Shevlin, a 20-year veteran with the city. "I think the land was available and the market caught up to it."

Shevlin said growth in other parts of the region has been fueled by retiring baby boomers, but Pinellas Park is attractive to young families. As the housing market slips, retirees can buy or not as they wish, he said, but young couples need a place to raise their children.

Cohen has built a number of affordable sub-$200,000 houses after removing mobile homes, but more upscale homes are also on the menu. Lewis is selling some for a half-million dollars, but he has buyers in people who want a large spread but can't afford even higher prices in other cities.

At Heritage Reserve and Oak Bluff, two smaller subdivisions, Lewis offers models from $400,000-$650,000 for 2,300-3,600 square feet, but says similar homes in surrounding areas could be 50 percent more. He credits the rise in interest in the city to the Shoppes at Park Place at the intersection of U.S. 19 and Park Boulevard.

"When that was ParkSide Mall, it was dead from the day it was built," said Lewis, who used to own the Leverock's restaurant adjacent to the mall. "Now, it's a power center. It's a draw."

But the mall's developer, Boulder Venture, said the opportunity was always there, just unrecognized. The spurt in Pinellas Park was inevitable as people found the central location.

"Fifty acres in the heart of the most densely populated county in Florida? That was a home run from Day 1," said John Sabow of Boulder Venture. "It just needed an updated, modern shopping center, which that mall was not."

Sabow said traffic at the mall has exceeded expectations and is a factor as other builders take notice. Just as his company took an unpolished gem and made it shine, he said developers are taking to the rest of the city.

Beazer built 56 homes at 78th Avenue and 76th Street and is in the midst of building 300 townhomes at 70th Avenue near 49th Street. Rottlund built 114 units at 78th Avenue and 66th Street, another 140 at 62nd Avenue and 58th Street, and another 96 at 82nd Avenue and 66th Street. Along with the Cohens and Brodericks and other builders, the city is growing up.

Shevlin and others have seen some commercial redevelopment but are eager for more, especially along Park Boulevard. People refer to the county as being built out, but they say places like Pinellas Park provide ample opportunity for clearing and rebuilding.

"All the pristine lands are gone," said the city's zoning coordinator, Joe Aukstikalnis, "but there's still land out there."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

Fast Facts:

A building sample

Some new housing since 2001:

Park Place, 114 units at 78th Avenue and 66th Street.

Oak Park, 56 units at 78th Avenue and 76th St.

Millbrooke, 124 units at 62nd Avenue and 58th Street.

Ranch Lake, 16 units at 62nd Avenue and 58th Street.

Lake Allen, 52 units at Lake Allen Drive and 118th Avenue.

Somerset Lake, 66 units, Lake Allen Drive and 118th Avenue.

Gateway Apartments, 300 units near Gandy Boulevard and 28th Street.

Palmbrooke, 96 units at 82nd Avenue and 66th Street.

Sawgrass, 307 units at 70th Avenue near 49th Street.