TAMPA — On a clear day you can see Bradenton.
The weather wasn't very clear Tuesday, but the views from the 24th floor of the still-under-construction Virage Bayshore condo tower were impressive nonetheless — downtown Tampa to the east, downtown St. Petersburg to the west, Raymond James Stadium and Rocky Point to the north. And when the clouds briefly thinned, you could just make out a ghostly Sunshine Skyway to the south.
Members of the news media were invited Tuesday to witness the topping off of Virage, the tallest condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard and the first new one built there in 15 years. Since Virage was announced in 2016, one other tower has started construction and a third is expected to be underway by year's end.
"They all followed our lead with the price point we've established,'' said Stever Barber of Ascentia Development Group, which is building Virage in partnership with Batson-Cook Development Co.
All but four of the 71 units in Virage have been sold at list prices ranging from $1 million to just under $5 million for the penthouses on the top two floors. The building will be finished this year, with closings in early 2020.
Ascentia will soon announce another project in the Tampa Bay area although Jay Tallman, the company's principal, wouldn't give any details. But he noted that buyers of luxury condos are increasingly drawn to the Tampa Bay area because prices are lower than in Sarasota and Naples.
A tower like Virage "would be $200 a square foot more in Sarasota,'' he said. "There's still value in Tampa.''
Tuesday's tour began with the donning of hard hats and reflective vests, followed by a ride up a large, cage-like construction elevator. The group then stepped out onto the 24th floor, now a concrete shell open on all sides. Eventually this will be a single, 6,700-square-foot condo unit with 360 degree views.
Despite the lofty prices, the two full-floor penthouses were among the first units to be purchased. The buyers in both cases were from the Tampa Bay area; about 80 percent of the buyers so far have been local, including many South Tampa empty-nesters looking to downsize.
"We went into this with the knowledge from focus groups of what locals wanted, which was new condos on Bayshore,'' Barber said.
From the penthouse it was up a steep flight of outdoor stairs to the roof. When a new building reaches its full height, a pine or other evergreen tree is traditionally hoisted to the top for good luck. For Virage's topping off, though, the developers chose a small oak in homage to the much larger oak that they preserved onsite.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., the clouds darkened, thunder rumbled and the wind kicked up. Everyone was relieved to see the tree and an American flag come into sight, winched up on cables attached to a giant tower crane. The tree was gently settled into place just as the first raindrops began to fall.
"Perfect timing,'' Tallman said.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.