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3 projects could join restaurant on corner

Once an eyesore, the intersection sees several potential developments, including a hotel that may occupy the Cracker Barrel parcel.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is one of four projects expected at Interstate 275 and 54th Avenue N, an area that was an eyesore for some time.

William H. Howell, developer of the Cracker Barrel site, also is working to get a hotel in the same 4.8-acre tract. On an 18-acre parcel nearby that faces the interstate, a Milwaukee-based company wants to build a 262-unit apartment complex. And across 22nd Street from the Cracker Barrel site, a Tennessee foundation is renovating the old Ramada Inn into an assisted living facility.

Howell said he is dealing with Holiday Inn Express.

"I have nothing final on the hotel yet," he said, adding that while he is negotiating with Holiday Inn Express, he is open if any other flagship names want to talk to him. He said Marriott looked at the site as a possible location for a Fairfield Inn.

Howell said Cracker Barrel is a great draw for hotels.

Work on the five-story, former Ramada Inn stalled when the Trousdale Foundation in Cleveland, Tenn., ran into problems with its contractor. Before the foundation began renovating the old hotel, the building fell into disrepair and drew numerous complaints from the surrounding neighborhood.

Last month, the St. Petersburg City Council approved yet another extension to give the foundation time to finish the assisted living project without incurring monetary penalties. It is 80 percent to 90 percent complete.

Boulder Venture, which has headquarters in Minneapolis and has an office in Tampa, is building the apartment complex. The rental units will sit on an 18-acre site where the Pet Dairy once operated. That site is about 100 feet north of the Cracker Barrel/hotel site.

Robert Schmidt is developing the complex with his wife, Kelly. They are from the Clearwater area. Schmidt said Friday that he hopes construction will begin in May.

The 262 units will be built in 32 two-story buildings and offer studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Rents will range from $550 to $1,500. The most expensive units will include three bedrooms, 2.5 baths and garages, Schmidt said.

"It's a great site," he said. "It's very accessible.

"I think there is a need for (rental units) in this area."

All units will have alarm systems and include wiring for telephones and computers.

Once construction begins, it will take about a year to finish the complex. Schmidt said units could be ready to rent by October.

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