Indifference finally comes to an end: Officially, BayWalk retail complex is for sale
Wake up and good morning. It may seem like one small step for BayWalk but it could be a giant leap for St. Petersburg. After stagnating for years in ownership limbo, St. Pete's downtown retail center -- the former shopping/entertainment mecca known as BayWalk -- was formally put up for sale Wednesday with an initial asking price of $8 million.
(Photo above: Developer Mel Sembler in 2000 talks of the promise of the soon-to-debut BayWalk center in downtown St. Petersburg.)
About bloody time. Nothing's going to change at the ghost town shopping center (photo right: BayWalk in better days: 2003) without a new owner, new focus and new ideas. You could make the argument that St. Petersburg should at least briefly thank real estate developer Joel Cantor for stirring the pot and at least expediting the decision by the Boston company CW Capital -- the indifferent caretaker company sitting on BayWalk as one of its vast distressed property holdings -- for finally hiring Colliers International to try and sell the property. Cantor on his own approached CW Capital several months ago, trying to start a conversation and making a low-end offer for BayWalk, and talking to city officials to enlist their efforts to try and wrest BayWalk from its torpor. He was largely ignored, and he complained about it. Now comes CW Capital, literally weeks later, okaying BayWalk officially for sale. And with an initial $8 million price tag that developers say is too high, which means Cantor's talk of an offer as high as $5 million no longer sounds like low-balling.
According to St. Petersburg Times reporter Mark Puente's story here, Colliers International Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate firm, began marketing the center Wednesday. "The owner, CW Capital Asset Management, believes the time is right to sell," said Michael Milano, managing director at Colliers. Several potential buyers have expressed interest in recent months, he said, and the market is flush with cash. "Our goal is to find a buyer who shares the enthusiasm to get it re-energized," Milano said. (Photo, left: BayWalk was all but deserted in 2010.)
Jim Michalak, co-managing partner of Plaza Advisors in Tampa, told the Times that the opening BayWalk price is too steep on a square-foot basis: $107 a square foot. Michalak sold Centro Ybor -- a BayWalk-like retail center in Tampa's Ybor City -- in late 2006 for $14 million, or about $66 per square foot. If those prices are still in the general ballpark, look for BayWalk bids to come in much lower than $8 million.
Colliers' sales chief Milano (photo, left) told the Tampa Tribune here that BayWalk has a huge upside. "It's a block from the prospering Beach Drive, where a series of new, upscale restaurants opened recently. There's the nearby Dali Museum that just opened in a new space. There's the new Chihuly Collection of art glass sculptures. And there's the waterfront and St. Petersburg Pier just a bit down the street" -- though, of course the Pier, like BayWalk, is currently a retail dud requiring taxpayer subsidy and will be overhauled once the city figures out what it wants out on the water.
As Milano told the Tribune: "In this economy, every property today comes with its own challenges to sell. This complex caters to a different type of shopper" -- like those who frequent Channelside in Tampa or Centro Ybor.
So this is good news. BayWalk's for sale and CW Capital's finally gotten out of the way, it seems, for buyers to start talking to a willing seller, What took so long?
(Photos: James Borchuck, Lara Cerri, Chris Zuppa of the St. Petersburg Times.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times