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Big vacant buildings are a tough sell in Pinellas real estate market

Deals are brewing. Real estate is starting to move again. There is hope even for larger buildings that have sat empty for years. But it's going to take creativity — in both function and financing.

"There's a reason most of these buildings have been sitting there for a long time. If it was easy then somebody probably would have bought them," said Jay Miller, local developer and vice president of Equity Inc. "While there might be 100 users looking for 5,000 square feet, when you get up to 100,000 square feet there might be only two."

The queen of the big empty buildings right now is the 820,000-square-foot Belleview Biltmore. The travails of the 114-year-old hotel in Belleair have been well-documented. It seems to be in a holding pattern.

But there are plenty of others in the area, albeit without the same high profile. We take a look at 14 vacant buildings that are large, in prominent locations or both. Combined, they once housed more than 5,000 jobs.

Those in the know in local real estate offer their opinions on potential outcomes for these empty opportunities. Filling them is a key to boosting employment in Pinellas County.

MCI building at Gateway Center

10222 MCI Drive, Pinellas Park

Asking price: Not listed with county or agent

Size: 129,542 square feet

Owner: Pinellas Plaza, New York, N.Y.

Year built: 1990

"We do show that quite often. The problem is it's been empty so long now. You walk in and the air conditioning hasn't been running in a while, it's a difficult first impression. It needs a lot of work to bring it up to speed."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County economic development

Raytheon facilities

1501 72nd St. N, St. Petersburg

Asking price: Not set

Size: Three buildings make up 500,000 square feet on 32 acres

Owner: Raytheon Co.

Year built: 1959 and 1969

There is groundwater contamination from the owners before Raytheon.

"People do a Google search and see that the neighbors are upset. You don't want to walk into that kind of trouble, even though it's probably easily remedied. There are industrial portfolio owners who specialize in (properties requiring cleanup). They know the risk, they have the insurance and financial products. Their lawyers know what to do."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County economic development

"That is great real estate if you can address the cleanup issue. There are no other sites that are that big. It's adjacent to a residential neighborhood, so residential might be one of the better uses."

Jay Miller, local developer and vice president of Equity Inc.


116 Fifth St. S, St. Petersburg

Asking price: $1.3 million

Size: 51,000 square feet

Owners: VPC3 II, group of local investors

Year built: 1926

"We've had people that have looked at it for a charter school. It's got a gym, it's got the four floors. We've had a church interested in it because they want a day care facility. They would reinstitute the pool and actually use the gym as a sanctuary. We've had boutique hotels and someone who was interested in it as a spa. Someone was talking about a training gym for mixed martial arts. They would have a seating area for fights and use it for small concerts. We've had people talking about making it a nightclub. I say they could have the Village People do the grand opening and sing YMCA."

Philip Powell, an owner

"We've shown that thing till we're blue in the face. It's going to be somebody who has money and vision."

Lisa Ulrich, an agent with RE/MAX Metro St. Petersburg who is listing the building and also a partner in the ownership group

Kmart/Sears store

9500 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg

Asking price: Unavailable

Size: 123,456 square feet

Owner: Lawrence Kadish, New York real estate mogul

Year built: 1971

"I know of a guy who is looking into doing an indoor dirt bike track. That would be a great facility for things like that. But that's going to take the deep pocket guy."

Jon LaBudde, Vector Real Estate

"It is pretty much one big open space. It could be used for light manufacturing (such as assembly of medical devices). It has plenty of parking. … It could be a call center."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County economic development

Travelodge/Bond Hotel

421 Fourth Ave. N, St. Petersburg

Recently sold for $1.2 million

Size: 33,678 square feet

Owner: Synovus Bank

Year built: 1930

"It's got a nice location. Given that it was built as a hotel, it more likely will remain a hotel or some kind of residential."

David Goodwin, St. Petersburg director of economic development

St. Petersburg Auto Mall

2500 U.S. 19, St. Petersburg

Asking price: $4.7 million

Size: 65,490 square feet

Owner: Douglas, William & Melodie Family Limited Partnership

Year built: 1967

"It's a good-sized piece of property. We are directing people there who are interested in retail, multi-tenants or a medium box (such as Office Depot or Aldi). Publix is reconstructing its store right near there. There's a Sam's Club coming in. That should help raise interest."

Dave Goodwin, St. Petersburg director of economic development

"When retail has been converted to alternative uses like office, it has had very limited success. Something that size could house a call center type use. The employment demographic of that area would support that."

Hal Piper, corporate real estate broker, Piper Property Group


10101 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg

Asking price: $4.9 million

Size: 94,000 square feet

Owner: Pine Ridge Partnership, Tampa

Year built: 1987

"The second floor is easily subdivided. There could be four tenants in that building without major changes. Some of the office buildings that were single tenant before have elevator banks and front doors that do not make it easy to make it available to multiple tenants."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County economic development

"Paychex has visibility. It's a well-located building but also surrounded by tremendous vacancy. Baypoint Commerce Center (across the street) has a couple of vacant buildings. There is new ownership there with deep pockets that will redevelop that park and directly compete with Paychex."

Hal Piper, corporate real estate broker with Piper Property Group

John Rhodes Funeral Home

635 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg.

Asking price: $2 million

Size: 22,703 square feet

Owner: John S. Rhodes Inc.

Year built: 1920

"The John Rhodes building had a lot of lookers during the boom and had potential. I think the price probably stayed above what anybody was willing to pay."

Jon LaBudde, with Vector Commercial Real Estate Services

"Who wants to redo a funeral home for another use? It has really low ceilings. It was used for embalming. It's going to be torn down."

Jay Miller, local developer and vice president of Equity Inc.

Evatone plant

4801 Ulmerton Road, Largo

Asking price: Lease only, $5 per square foot for block buildings with air conditioning, $3 for metal construction

Size: Three buildings total 300,000 square feet

Owner: Cuna Mutual Investment Corp., Madison, Wis.

Year built: 1980

"We haven't shown it recently. When there was work on Ulmerton Road they lost some curb cuts, so it's tougher to get in and out than it used to be. It's now in the city limits … Utility taxes and franchise fees are added to the power bill. Still, I'm not too worried about that one."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County economic development

Medline Building

4750 118th Ave. N, Pinellas Park

Price: $7 million

Size: 108,869 square feet

Owner: Medline Industries

Year built: 1989

"That's a very viable site. We've shown it several times recently. It is in a good location with the new ramp from Interstate 275. If you're looking for truck traffic, it has good access."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County economic development

Frito Lay distribution center

10601 U.S. 19, Pinellas Park

Asking price: Not determined

Size: 125,116 square feet

Owner: Icon International, Stamford, Conn.

Year built: 1984

ICON International is a specialized finance company engaged in corporate bartering for underperforming assets. It traded $6.3 million worth of advertising media to Frito Lay for the building in April.

"Our intention with this building is to find a tenant or another owner. It's available for sale at this point. We haven't set a price or listed it yet."

Kelly Emmert, ICON International


(former Special Data Processing facility)

16120 U.S. 19 N, Largo

Price: $6.5 million

Size: 197,100 square feet

Owner: 16120 LLC, Tallahassee

Year built: 1985

"It's unique in its contiguous size of nearly 200,000 square feet. The best option … is to reposition the property as multi-tenant office space, targeting larger (20,000 square feet or more) tenants, primarily back office users. A successful example of this type of redevelopment is NetPark in east Tampa, a former regional mall. Then market it to national companies with back office, customer service or call center needs such as government agencies looking to consolidate, and nontraditional education like charter schools and for-profit universities."

Hal Piper, corporate real estate broker with Piper Property Group


655 Second Ave. S, St. Petersburg

Asking price: $995,000

Size: 11,000 square feet

Owner: YWCA of Tampa Bay. (It is using some of the building but will move out when it's sold.)

Year built: 1924

"We've had a real wide variety of interest in that one, a boutique medical place like for plastic surgery, regular office space ... apartments."

Derel Keys, Keys Real Estate listing agent

"In the Greater Cincinnati area in northern Kentucky they've got an area called the wedding center. They took buildings that weren't used and filled them with businesses (dresses, reception space, food services, florists) that cater to weddings. You could do something like that with the YWCA and have compatible, complementary businesses. With Herman Homes across the street and Bright Wood Works cabinets on First Avenue S it could center around home design. That YWCA has so much cool architecture and different rooms, you could go in and have a fabric store, an upholsterer, lighting. Someone could take that building and start renting it out to smaller spaces."

Paula Clair Smith, broker associate at Osprey Real Estate Services

Parkview Hotel

7401 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

Asking price: The "For Sale" sign recently came down, but it was listed on Craigslist for $1.9 million in December. The current owner paid $3.5 million in 2007.

Size: 40,000 square feet

Owner: Central Ave. Hotel LLC

Year built: 1918

Crystal Bay Properties is taking the property back from the current ownership group. Crystal Bay includes Largo investors Mark Tong and James Mercer, who owned the historic hotel from 1996 to 2004. It was operated as an extended-stay hotel for seniors. They sold it in 2004 to AROC Development, which transferred the note to Central Ave. Hotel LLC in 2007. Renovation on the vacant hotel has been stop and go since then. Building permits expired last year after several extensions. New permits were issued at a cost of $8,800 in May.

"The plumbing is in. Electric is in on, and the roof is on. We hope to open in November. At first there will be no food service, but we will (have that) in the long run. Most likely you'll see it as a 55-and-older property."

Mark Tong, Crystal Bay Properties partner

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Big vacant buildings are a tough sell in Pinellas real estate market 06/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 4:00pm]
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