PINELLAS PARK — For proof that developers are betting big on renting, look no further than Gandy Boulevard, where a South Florida firm is planning to spend $45 million to build hundreds of luxury apartments.
The Richman Group of Florida last month bought nearly 40 acres from flea-market magnate Hardy Huntley, with plans to start construction early next year on the 432-unit Gateway Centre.
Sized between 870 and 1,500 square feet, the one- to three-bedroom apartments will boast nine-foot ceilings and granite countertops and rent for $1,000 to $1,800 a month.
The four-story complex will also have a clubhouse, an outdoor kitchen, tennis courts and a nature trail. The first phase, of 320 units, is scheduled to open in early 2014.
The land, part of an old industrial park, is not exactly an Eden of luxury. Neighbors include the Sunset Palms mobile home park, a Walmart Supercenter, the planned home of Tampa Bay's first Wawa convenience store and a sprawling convoy of car lots.
But Richman development associate Damon Kolb said the West Palm Beach-based firm sees the site as a smart investment. With so much land bundled together in built-out Pinellas County, Kolb said, "We feel fortunate to find a site as nice as this."
The owner of the Wagon Wheel, Mustang and Gunn Highway flea markets, Huntley is perhaps lesser known as a land tycoon, owning more than 1,000 acres across Tampa Bay and in Citrus County, said Huntley Properties partner Peter Creighton.
Much of that was cobbled together from the discounted debris of foreclosure rolls, including the Richman land, which a bank had begun to seize from deflated developer Grady Pridgen. Creighton would not disclose the land's purchase or sale price, and the property appraiser has not yet publicly recorded the sale.
Last year, a Winter Park development firm, Douglas Partners, unveiled a similar proposal called Douglas Grand Gateway. But the deal fell though, Creighton said, prompting Huntley to seek other offers. Douglas representatives did not return messages Friday.
Apartment vacancies have tightened and rental rates have climbed as the recession led former homeowners to seek en masse what seemed like cheaper, less-risky living.
But it's not just demand. During the housing boom, apartments converted to condos squeezed the open supply. And after the bust, construction of new apartment buildings, and everything else, slowed to a crawl.
Gateway is one of many planned campuses looking to cater to local renters' pent-up demand. Plans have sprouted or risen back to life in Tampa's South Howard district and North Hyde Park.
The Richman Group's Florida office is also working to open nearly 500 apartments in Hillsborough County, Largo and Clearwater. Another complex for Safety Harbor is in the works.
"Multifamily is what we do. … It's not new to us," Kolb said. "What is new is the amount of competition."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.