Boom! Downtown St. Petersburg Awash In New Apartments

One trip to St. Petersburg is all it took to win over Allen Morris. His heart and his business smarts fluttered.

"We knew it was the right place," says Morris, president of Coral Gables-based Allen Morris Company. "We just love all of the city's art galleries. From Salvador Dali, Chihuly and Morean Arts Center, there is so much activity in the galleries. St. Petersburg is all about the arts. It just seemed that we should be celebrating the artists of St. Petersburg."

The celebration of art is the motif of The Hermitage, an 8-story, 348-unit luxury apartment community that will cover a city block within a short distance of USFSP and nearby medical campuses. Visitors and residents can step into a gallery of curated art on the ground floor lobby. Among potential exhibits that Morris hopes to bring to the gallery are the fabled Russian Faberge eggs. Art will be on display throughout the complex -- even in a rooftop private meeting room with waterfront views of the bay.

Morris isn't the only developer with big dreams for St. Petersburg. The 2008 economic bust in the real estate market is a boom again as developers round up property and construction cranes for a building spree.

As many as 1,000 to 1,200 new residential apartments and condominiums will be added to downtown in the next few years. That could add an estimated 3,000 new residents downtown.

"It's all part of the city becoming a more vibrant urban center," says Dave Goodwin, the city's planning and economic development director. "They are walking the streets, going to restaurants, shops, creating more demand for restaurants and shops. That side of the city is going gangbusters."

Promulgating An Urban Lifestyle

Goodwin anticipates new residents will be a mixed crowd.

"Some people will be downsizing, having raised a family but they want to live in an urban center," Goodwin says. "And there will be young people with disposable income who want to live that type of lifestyle as well."

Among future enticements for tourists and residents alike is the planned Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Museum, designed by award-winning architect Alberto Alphonso for collector Rudy Ciccarello. The 4-story museum, at 333 3rd Ave. N., will house more than 1,800 pieces of furniture, clay and glass from the early 20th century. A 2016 opening is planned.

A prime piece of long undeveloped land on Central Avenue, north of 1st  Street, is now in the orbit of The Edwards Group and The Kolter Group. Plans are to build twin towers that will house condominiums, a hotel, shops and restaurants. A 2015 groundbreaking and a late 2017 opening are planned.

Two luxury condominiums are planned within a short walk of Beach Drive. JMC Communities is developing 17 condominiums at Rowland Place along Fourth Avenue. Next door, the Bliss, at 176 4th Ave., is on the drawing board at the former site of the Buckley Moss Gallery. Plans call for 19 stories and 30 condominiums, each with individual elevators and private balconies. A 2-year construction schedule is anticipated.

But most of the new residential will be apartments built by developers who see a growing market for young professionals who don't want to be tied down by home ownership.

Places To Call Home

Morris is poised to sign an agreement with a contractor shortly for The Hermitage. He expects the apartments to appeal to millennials, empty-nesters and commuters who work in Tampa but want to live in a re-energized St. Petersburg.

The project is the first residential project in St. Petersburg by Morris's newly created Morris Residential, which purchased the site for about $5.2 million.

CSJM Architects will work on the design of what Morris promises will deliver a "level of wonder. It's not going to be just an apartment building," he says. "We refuse to build cookie-cutter buildings." An opening is planned by the end of 2015.

The trend toward downtown revitalization pre-dates the economic belly-flop of 2008, Morris says. Urban centers already were attracting investment but the downturn left some projects unfulfilled and others deferred. "You're seeing St. Petersburg playing catch up," he says.

And some came away with a lesson learned. "Buying a home is not always a profitable venture," Morris says. "If people rented at the time of the downturn, they would have not lost all their money then."

Goodwin sees the current growth is building on decades of planning and vision. It's more visible and accelerated now, he says.

The '60s and '70s were different eras when residents and businesses sought suburbia and moved away from city centers, he says. But what was attractive then is less so today.

"People want less commute times and traffic jams and more access to more amenities," Goodwin says. "St. Petersburg has grown an amenities package that will be successful. It didn't happen by accident."

As far back as 1900s, St. Petersburg city officials made a decision to preserve its waterfront. "There's that foundation," Goodwin says.

Rebirth really began in mid-1980s, Goodwin says, with typical ups and downs in the economy.

St. Petersburg has a growing list of amenities that set the city apart including St. Petersburg College, the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg (USFSP) and The Dali Museum. Newer arrivals are Sundial, Morean Arts Center and the Chihuly Collection.

The formula is not that complicated. Developers have to be willing to create an environment people want to live in, and people have to want that lifestyle. "It's sure there now," Goodwin says.

What's New And What's Next

New apartment developments include:

Beacon 430

This 4-story Mediterranean-style, mid-rise complex at 430 3rd Ave. S. is developed by the NRP Group. The luxury complex is leasing 326 apartments with anticipated move-in by late October. There is a resort size pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, yoga room, a second floor sitting room and library, a conference room, a business center, a veranda with grills and cabanas and a "reflection" terrace. Spacious studios to 3-bedroom, two bath apartments are available.

Urban Edge

Proving that urban living appeals to all ages, developer Atlantic Housing Partners is bringing a cross-generational project to St. Petersburg. Urban Edge is the umbrella name for side-by-side mid-rise apartment communities totaling 125 apartments, known as Urban Landings and Harbour's Edge. The latter will offer affordable monthly rates and cater to seniors age 55 and older; the "landings" will lease market rate apartments designed to appeal to young professionals.

The Hermitage

This luxury 8-story, 348-unit apartment complex, at 700 1st Ave. S., will take up a city block. The first floor will have a lobby, art gallery, courtyard, apartments and about 2,000 square feet of commercial space. In addition, the Hermitage will offer a rooftop pool, grills, spa, fitness center, bicycle storage and service center. The studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments will be ready for occupancy by the end of 2015.

Modera Prime 235

Mill Creek Residential is the developer for this 8-story, mid-rise complex with 309 studio, and one- and two-bedroom luxury apartments, located at 235 3rd Ave. N., within four blocks of the city's waterfront and Beach Drive. Tenants can mingle in a 7,000-square-foot clubhouse with Wi-Fi cafe, gaming area, billiards, kitchen and media room. There also is a 2-story fitness studio, two rooftop lounges, a pool with sundeck, bicycle storage, a dog wash station, and an electric and charging station. Move-ins began arriving in Spring.

Name To Be Determined

American Land Ventures and Tampa-based contractor DPR are planning a 357-unit, 15-story luxury apartment building that doesn't yet have a name. Located at 330 3rd St. S., the high-rise complex will be on about 2.8 acres adjacent to the University Village Shopping Center anchored by Publix grocery store.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer living in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.