By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Steve Shanks, a single father of three boys, can step outside his $600-a-month apartment on the east side of Gulf Boulevard and enjoy a clear view of the Gulf of Mexico.
But not for long.
Across the street from the four-unit apartment building where Shanks lives, a $15-million, three-story condominium project is rising. What was once a cluster of run-down cottages at 2718 Gulf Blvd. will become Capraiella, the most expensive property in Indian Rocks Beach.
The project, on 1 acre bordering Belleair Shore that developers bought for $1.5-million, will have 12 luxurious units costing between $785,000 and $1.75-million each. Mediterranean-style architecture, such as stately columns and marble entryways, will grace each of the residences, which range from 2,700 square feet to 4,400 square feet. Other features include air-conditioned cabanas, a heated pool and tiled terraces.
"It doesn't bother me," said Shanks, 42, a food service consultant. "I guess it's progress. My only concern is that if enough of this keeps going, it will be where the average working guy can't live here."
It is a scenario that is unfolding in beach towns around the state. The old Florida of mom-and-pop motels, quaint cottages and souvenir shops is slowly disappearing, replaced with upscale condominiums. While city officials and developers in Indian Rocks Beach see the trend as an economic boost, some residents fear it will change the culture of their community.
"Is there going to be change? You bet," said developer Jae Heinberg.
But it is change for the better, said Heinberg, managing partner of Bella Vista/Eco Group, the Tampa company behind the Capraiella project and other waterfront developments in the Tampa Bay area, including the Tides Beach Club in North Redington Beach, Vizcaya at Longboat Key and the Sanctuary on Sanibel Island. The company also is proposing a $50-million, 250-room luxury Marriott resort aimed at spurring the redevelopment of south Clearwater Beach.
Many of the older places on the beach have deteriorated, Heinberg said. "Those that can be saved, I encourage that," he said. "But they don't need to become eyesores, and that's what a lot of them have become. (Capraiella) is an improvement to the area. People who have come up to me have been very supportive of this."
Wanda Seaman, a waitress at Sandy's Restaurant in Indian Rocks Beach, doesn't think she'll ever serve any of the people who will live at Capraiella. The restaurant on Gulf Boulevard offers $3.95 breakfast specials and a $4.25 hamburger platter that includes french fries and coleslaw.
"I say, leave our city alone," said Seaman, 43, who walks to work from her townhouse on Gulf Boulevard.
Seaman says she is saddened by the redevelopment taking place in her city, which is home to 4,200 year-round residents. She misses buying ice cream cones at the historic Pueblo Village, a store on Gulf Boulevard that resembled a Pueblo Indian adobe and was a popular fixture with locals and tourists alike.
The building is gone now, replaced with Beachside Villas condominiums, a two-building, two-story complex with 15 units.
Betty and Bob Hall stopped by Sandy's on Wednesday for an afternoon treat of blueberry pancakes. The retirees have been living in Largo for 23 years and visit the restaurant almost every day.
"It takes away from that small-town feeling," said Betty Hall, 76, as she looked at an artist's rendering of the Capraiella project.
But Matt Loder, vice president of Crabby Bill's, a popular seafood restaurant in Indian Rocks Beach, disagrees.
"From our point of view, we're real happy about it," said Loder, 37.
Loder said he's thrilled with any redevelopment on the beach, especially projects that mean more patrons for his business -- like the one in Indian Shores that recently razed the Scandia Restaurant to make room for condominiums.
A bartender at Loder's restaurant, Chris Spong, a 10-year resident of Indian Rocks Beach, is not so upbeat. "I think they're going to be tearing out all of these old houses before long," he said.
But Spong, 35, said he is pleased with the placement of Capraiella. "That will fit in good there because it's a continuation of the nice houses in Belleair Shore."
While Capraiella is the most expensive condominium project under way in Indian Rocks Beach, it is far from the only one in the works. Behind the Beachside Villas is Chez Soleil, a 16-unit, four-story building. South on Gulf Boulevard are Casa Velero, a complex of four townhomes, and Water's Edge, a two-building, five-unit project.
The price tag on the homes, all of which have been sold, range from $400,000 to $650,000, said Evelyn Page, president of Beach and Bay Realty, which develops and sells waterfront condominiums.
The company also will begin construction next week on Bella Playa, 10 Mediterranean-style townhomes in Indian Shores costing $1.1-million to $1.2-million.
"The demand is there," Page said. "People want to be on the beach."
A large beachfront house was demolished so Bella Playa could be built, and the Indian Rocks projects replaced old properties, including cottages and small motels.
The condominium projects are an improvement, Page said. A lot of the properties that were torn down were in disrepair and no longer the charming places they once were.
"I do think Indian Rocks Beach is beginning to change," said Jack Bowman, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Gulf Coast Realty. "It probably is underdeveloped for what is going on in waterfront property in Florida."
"You can't stop progress," he said, "and if the progress is good, then the whole community benefits from it."
Construction crews for Capraiella began driving piles into the ground Thursday, the same day Bella Vista/Eco Group hosted a groundbreaking ceremony. Construction should be complete in November 2001, said developer Heinberg.
Six of the units already are sold. Most of the owners have homes in two states and will live in the condominiums the majority of the year, Heinberg said.
The project fits in nicely with the city's overall redevelopment plan, said City Manager Tom Brobeil.
It really had no choice.
Under the city's building codes, structures can be no higher than 46 feet off the ground. No one should fear the city will become another Sand Key in Clearwater, where high-rise condominiums line the shore, Brobeil said.
But residents can expect to see more condominium projects, he said. "And will they look like Capraiella? Maybe some of them will, but the preponderance will be more modest," Brobeil said.
The days of the $450-a-month rental on Gulf Boulevard are disappearing, he said. "People are holding onto that land for its value, and it will be developed," he said.
Bowman says blame it on economics. "The land out there is so valuable," he said. "It's almost too valuable to have a house on it."
No one knows that better than James and Leeanna Wideman. The couple live in a single-family house on Gulf Boulevard, two lots south of Capraiella.
They bought the home in 1968 and retired there in 1986. For the past five years, they have received numerous letters from real estate agencies asking if they are interested in selling their property.
The answer is always no.
Leeanna Wideman, 75, says Capraiella is pretty, but it's hard adapting to the change. "We miss all those little cottages," she said.
-- Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.