Though now might not seem like the best time to market condominiums, Bob Ponath says his family's empty warehouse north of downtown no longer serves any other worthwhile purpose.
"We're not going to get any decent rents out of it anymore," he said of the former ice plant at 685 30th Ave. N. "The time has come to convert it."
Besides, Ponath feels the uniqueness of the project may carry it through the down market. Instead of cookie-cutter floor plans, transforming this 7,300-square-foot brick building with foot-thick walls into loft apartments will create some unusual living.
Ponath will only get four units, ranging from 1,650 to 2,375 square feet, out of the conversion. Three will have upper-story lofts in the warehouse area with 22-foot ceilings. The lone single-story unit will have its own fenced garden of 1,000 square feet.
Nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the building dates to 1926, when Pinellas Ice and Storage Co. built it next door to the Pinellas Baking Co., which Ponath's grandparents had created in 1917.
In short order, home refrigeration made ice plants obsolete, and that business failed, but the Ponaths bought the building in the 1930s and have held it since.
Through the years the building has been used for everything from storage and distribution to rug sales and a yoga studio. But as nearby properties in the Five Points Neighborhood have been revitalized, Ponath and his siblings decided it was time to make this building fit in.
Construction should start soon, he said, but will mostly be inside the building. Not only will he tear out the artificial walls from old office space, he will remove the existing concrete floor so he can lay all new utility lines for the condos.
Inside, Ponath said he will leave some beams, exposed brick and some of the original cork lining for ice storage, but will coat the exterior in stucco. Landscaping will make the exterior look less like a factory, but large windows will remain to offer natural light.
The work will likely take most of the year, but Ponath is marketing the units now. He said prices will range from $440,000 to $660,000.
The family has other holdings in the area that will also become residential in time. The bakery next door is now retail with some apartments above, but that will become housing after this project is done. A vacant lot behind the ice plant will hold single-family homes, Ponath said. Three more lots on 30th Avenue west of this work will be developed later.
Ponath, a broker with the family's RP Realty Group, said he's hoping to time the real estate market's rebound with the various properties.
"It's a five-year project to convert all this," he said. "We're getting into it at as good a time as we can."
Paul Swider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 892-2271.