CLEARWATER — The waterfront condo towers on Sand Key line the beach for miles. In fact, there's only one vacant spot left: the long-closed Cabana Club restaurant, which sits empty and abandoned. Next week, it will be demolished to make way for something new.
The last time someone tried to build something new there, nearly 100 upset Sand Key residents rode chartered buses to City Hall to object. They feared that a proposed hotel and restaurant would be too much for the small site, and that inadequate parking would send customers' cars spilling over into neighboring residential lots.
Fast-forward five years. A Tampa developer with previous experience on Sand Key has bought the 1-acre site for $2.1 million. He's fast-tracking plans to build a seven-story, 23-unit condominium there, and this time the neighbors aren't objecting.
"I believe it'll be the first new condo on the beach in the Tampa Bay area since the recession," said developer Brian Taub, who in 2005 built the nine-story Utopia condo tower a mile to the north at 1350 Gulf Blvd.
Plans for the condominium, to be called the Finale on Sand Key, will likely go before Clearwater's Community Development Board for approval on April 16.
The property's zoning allows for 24 housing units per acre, and the parcel at 1590 Gulf Blvd. is just shy of an acre, so the developer is planning 23 condos with 46 parking spaces. The plans show six floors of condos over parking, with a swimming pool and a fire pit.
The condos are priced at $599,000 to $679,000. Taub started presales last week and says he already has contracts for 13 of the 23 units.
The Cabana Club restaurant, located on the south end of Sand Key near Belleair Beach, used to be affiliated with the historic Belleview Biltmore in Belleair.
It was the Biltmore's previous owners, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, who got Clearwater's approval in 2008 to build a 38-room hotel with an adjoining 160-seat restaurant at the Cabana Club site. That never happened, partly because a Sand Key citizens group fought the plan in court.
The Biltmore's current owners, Miami investors Raphael and Daniel Ades, sold the Cabana restaurant site to Taub in December. Since then, Taub has been showing his plans to the residents of neighboring condos. So far, he's getting a thumbs-up.
"We view this as the best possible scenario that we could hope for," said Vince Nauss, board president of the Cabana Club condos just to the north. "Everyone is thrilled that something is finally happening with the property, and that eyesore of a restaurant will be gone."
"I have not heard any negative comments," added Mike First, president of Dan's Island North, located just to the south. "People have expressed relief that now we know what's going to be there. It's been up in the air for years. The hotel had us all in heart palpitations."
The Sand Key Civic Association is reviewing Taub's plans, although the SKCA isn't necessarily the powerhouse it once was, due to infighting. Many of the condominium boards on Sand Key have decided not to rejoin the association this year.
"It's a much better proposal than we had seen over the last several years," said Cynthia Remley, who is chair of SKCA's projects review committee and is one of the Sand Key residents who fought a legal battle against the Biltmore's proposed hotel for the Cabana Club property. She said Civic Association members are talking to Taub about the proposed condo's landscaping and about screening to hide rooftop air conditioning units.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.