ST. PETERSBURG — With the departure of Bank of America from the 27-story tower that bore its name, Pinellas County's tallest building is left without a name and an anchor.
"We're working real hard on getting a good replacement and would like to see a bank (move into the vacated space)," said building manager Roger Donaldson.
Regions, right across First Avenue S, is one possible tenant. A Regions spokeswoman declined to comment. Bank of America moved from the tower at 200 Central Ave. to 220 Third St. S in November.
Even without a name or bank, two investors have spent about $2 million renovating a lobby space for a sushi restaurant and the 19th floor for a swanky nightclub catering to 40- and 50-year-olds.
Bart Pilipajc and Marek Pietryniak will host the grand opening of Vue, a sushi restaurant and martini bar, Monday through Friday, offering free sake all week. In March they will open Vue 19, a lounge with views of Tampa skyscrapers, the Sunshine Skyway and the Don CeSar Beach Resort.
"I don't think there is any other place like that surrounded by water that is open to the public," Pilipajc said.
The addition of the restaurant and club should enhance the building, though the loss of Bank of America obviously hurts.
"Any time you lose a tenant it takes a little bit away from the building, especially a high-profile tenant on the ground floor such as Bank of America," said Alan Feldshue, managing director of office services for Colliers International Tampa Bay, who knows the downtown market. "It's got to be a bit of a setback for the building in a rough environment."
Without counting the space that Bank of America vacated, about 18 percent, or 54,000 square feet, of the 295,200-square-foot tower is vacant. Two years ago just 8 percent, or 24,000 square feet, was empty.
"Downtown St. Petersburg has quite a bit of vacancy," Feldshue said, estimating a general vacancy rate of 25 percent. "Just a few years ago, the vacancy rate was in single digits. The change in the market has been significant in downtown St. Petersburg. There aren't many large deals going on."
He thinks, however, that the vacant bank space in the former Bank of America tower may not sit empty for long.
"Given the building's prestige and location there's a good possibility that someone would jump in there. I like the quality of the building, its design. It's got a timeless look to it."
"(The absence of Bank of America) doesn't make a huge difference to us,'' Pilipajc said. "The landlord is doing an excellent job managing the building. We decided to make this huge investment here even though we are still in a recession. We believe that we can draw from the whole Tampa Bay area, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Sarasota."
While most clubs cater to a younger crowd by opening at 10 p.m., Vue 19 will have one room open at 5 p.m. for people to watch the sunset with a drink or sushi. The main room with live music will open around 7 p.m.
Pilipajc referred to a third area as a "chill-out room."
"Every club in London has a chill-out room where the music is not so loud," he said. All three rooms have a large corner balcony for taking in the view.
On Sundays, Vue 19 will serve a buffet with breakfast and Asian foods. It will also rent rooms of any size for private parties. Since the club will be open after normal business hours, elevators will make express runs to the 19th floor with no stops along the way.
And if you don't want to take a ride in the glass elevator you can still see a panoramic photo that mirrors the 19th floor's view hanging over the sushi bar and on the bathroom walls of Vue on the first floor.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.