Downtown pioneers have great expectations
By Sharon Ginn
Published July 6, 2007
That first morning, the horns woke him up.
It was 7 a.m., and the sounds of rush hour traffic outside his window startled Josh Cahill.
A lifelong Brandon resident, Cahill was used to heavy traffic, but like most who live in the suburbs, he'd have to get in the car and drive a ways before he encountered it.
Now it's right outside his window, every morning.
On June 12, the 22-year-old became one of the first residents to wake up in the 32-story SkyPoint condo.
When City Times caught up with him recently, he had grown used to the early morning horns and traffic and talked of his experiences with a smile. But like developers and city officials who tout the advantages of downtown living, Cahill was still in the idea stage.
He likes the fact that he can walk 100 yards or so to the Tampa Museum of Art, although he hadn't done that yet. And he could zip five blocks from his building at 777 N Ashley Drive to the popular nightspot Fly, but he hadn't done that either.
Downtown had just 600 residents last year, according to figures cited by Jay Curran of the Novare Group, the lead developer for SkyPoint. Buyers began closing on SkyPoint units last month and should finish the process by the end of the year.
The project will bring about 500 residents to 380 units, Curran said.
Other downtown residential buildings are under way. Atlanta-based Novare and Tampa partner Intown Group, which teamed to develop SkyPoint, are building the 35-story Element at 808 N Franklin St. and this spring announced plans for Twelve, part boutique hotel and part condo that is still in the planning stages.
Cahill is glad to be in the first wave, but he wants to see more downtown businesses. He wonders what will fill the 10, 500 square feet of retail space on the first floor of his own building. (So far, SkyPoint officials are mum.)
"There's not much to do downtown, but I know by 2010 after (Tampa hosts) the Super Bowl, this area will be more developed, " he said.
He considers his sleek, modern one-bedroom, one-bath condo at SkyPoint a nice place to wait it out.
He bought the 723-square-foot unit for $208, 000. It's loftlike in that it has high ceilings, exposed concrete and only one interior noncloset door - to the bathroom.
Cahill has developed a decidedly urban routine in the few weeks he has lived on the 11th floor:
Wake up, throw open the sliding terrace door to hear the sounds of the city, position laptop on the black quartz kitchen countertop, drink coffee, stare out the windows.
From his terrace, Cahill can see Bayshore Boulevard, the art museum along the Hillsborough River, the University of Tampa and even St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field in the distance.
A title company agent, Cahill works either from home or at his company's Channelside office. He shops at the Publix on Bayshore and knows it's just a quick drive to meet friends in SoHo or Hyde Park.
"I've always wanted to live in South Tampa, " Cahill said. "This is the next best thing."
Cahill tried to purchase a SkyPoint unit when they went up for sale in 2005 but missed out on the lottery. While the building was under construction, he found an ad online at craigslist.com from someone wanting to get out of his contract.
Current list prices at SkyPoint now range between $301 and $489 a square foot, with 11 units listed early this week on the Multiple Listing Service. A unit slightly larger than Cahill's is listed for $309, 900. Officials with Novare-Intown say they discouraged "flippers" by limiting purchases by investors to 25 percent of the units.
Ian Markowitz closed on a two-bedroom, 1, 317-square-foot, 12th-floor corner unit in June for $462, 000. He was "worried that a lot of people were going to try to flip, " but now thinks many SkyPoint buyers see value in living downtown.
"I walk to work in the morning, literally, " said Markowitz, 25, an accountant in the SunTrust building on Jackson Street and a part-time real estate agent. "It's awesome. I've only been down here three weeks, and I'm loving it."
Used to a long commute from his Riverview townhouse, Markowitz says a typical weekday now involves an easy stop at Moxie's for coffee, and sometimes ends with a visit to Fly or a quick drive to International Plaza to meet friends.
He loves the convenience but, like Cahill, was startled at first by the downtown din.
"All of a sudden, there's ambulances going by, there's people yelling downstairs on the street, " he said. "But you get used to it quickly."
Downtown crime near the building is somewhat of a concern, Cahill said. The halls of SkyPoint were quiet last week, with fewer than 40 official residents, so there's no safety in numbers.
"My dad is a cop. He says, 'Don't venture downtown at night - yet, ' " Cahill said.
But "there are a lot of people in the elevators moving in every day," Markowitz said.
For now, Cahill and Markowitz enjoy sticking close to home. They say there's plenty to do.
SkyPoint's amenities include a modern and fully wired club room, a large fitness center with panoramic city views, and wide terraces with gardens and grills on either side of the building.
Cahill's unit directly overlooks SkyPoint's large but empty pool. City officials won't allow the pool to open because of construction issues, but Novare-Intown gave residents free memberships at the Harbor Island Athletic Club through August.
Will downtown live up to its promise?
"I'm from Fort Lauderdale, and if you go to downtown Fort Lauderdale ... there's stuff to do, " Markowitz said. "Downtown Tampa doesn't really have that yet.
"Does it pay to get here before everything happens? In a Realtor's mind, yes. I think downtown's going to be the next place to be."
[Last modified July 6, 2007, 13:41:01]
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