TAMPA — Every day, thousands of motorists zip on and off the Howard Frankland Bridge oblivious to what could be 16 of the most valuable acres available for redevelopment in the entire Tampa Bay area.
After decades of ownership, Tampa's L. M. Hughey Company is selling the Tampa Bay Marina complex, the adjacent Mariner Square and their aging, half-empty office buildings just off 1-275 between Kennedy Boulevard and the upscale Beach Park neighborhood. What the complexes lack in modern amenities, they make up for in sweeping bay views.
"This is the best waterfront in Tampa Bay,'' says broker Ward Viator, who is marketing the sites. "Once every 50 or 60 years properties get redeveloped and we are at that point with this property.''
At a time of high demand for both Class A office space and huge waterfront homes, the 16 acres have the potential to support both. Residential developers, however, could face staff challenges from Beach Park neighbors and there is no guarantee the city would approve even single-family homes, let alone higher-density dwellings.
L.M. Hughey has not set a price, and it remains to be seen what the market will bear. But the company thinks this is an auspicious time to sell, given the properties' location in the booming West Shore area and the easy access to St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa.
"There are no more large tracts of contiguous land in the downtown market so there definitely is a demand for 15 acres of developable land,'' said Nick Ganey, a commercial real estate agent with Keller Williams. Ganey, who learned only this week that the properties were for sale, and he plans to call them to his clients' attention.
For office developers, the sites could hold special appeal. In a recent port, Cushman & Wakefield said "intense interest'' in Class A Tampa office space has boosted rents to the same levels they were before the bust. And at the end of last year, West Shore had the highest average rent — $29.29 per square foot — of any area in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
So far, the tired-looking L.M. Hughey properties have not shared in the boom.
Both have access off Hoover Boulevard, the first light on Kennedy after leaving the bridge. If motorists turn right at the light, then right again, they come to a 10.5 acre waterfront parcel that includes a 75-slip marina and three commercial buildings, one with a superb view of Tampa Bay. But the dark, drab building houses only a handful of offices; on a recent weekday, the crumbling parking lot was nearly deserted.
On the other side of Hoover Boulevard is the 5.5-acre Mariner Square with five low-slung office buildings.
Though now used for business, both parcels have zoning that could permit "low-density'' residential development. They are in the highly regarded Plant High School district and close to Beach Park, where a house sold in July for $6.5 million, among the top prices paid for a bay area home last year.
Beach Park residents will keep a close eye on what developers have in mind for the sites.
"The demand is up for single-family homes, and I don't think single-family would be a bad thing for them to look at,'' said John Hudson, president of the Beach Park Neighborhood Association. "Otherwise, I'm quite certain that if they end up needing to change the zoning for whatever the developer's ultimate plan is, they'll end up getting a lot of opposition.''
With traffic in the West Shore area already notoriously clogged at times, Hudson said residents would be strongly opposed to a hotel or multi-family housing like condos or apartments. Both uses would generate traffic at nights and on weekends, unlike office buildings that are usually empty then.
Redeveloping the property but keeping it for office use "makes the better sense on a lot of levels,'' Hudson said. "We'd get rid of some ugly buildings from the '60s and '70 and get some nice new buildings that look better with Class A office space. I thinks that's a fantastic opportunity in and of itself.''
Though zoning on the L.M. Hughey sites could allow some types of residential development, it is by no means certain the city would approve that.
"There are a lot of factors before you can just throw residential on there,'' said Thomas Snellling, Tampa's director of planning and development. "Anybody buying a piece of property cannot assume anything unless they ask for some kind of analysis from my office. Without a complete review of what's there now, what the density is and what current entitlements there are, you can't definitely say would could or could not be built.''
The properties' current owner, L. M. Hughey, is primarily in the business of convenience stores and gas stations. In 1960, Hughey bought Tampa Bay Marina and the Imperial Yacht Basin near Gandy and Westshore Boulevards.
In 2005, the company sold Imperial to a developer whose plans for a grandiose residential project, New Port Tampa, were doomed by the recession. Another firm later acquired the land, where Miami's Related Group recently announced it would build hundreds of luxury apartments.
Whatever the fate of L. M. Hughey's remaining marina complex, Viator, the broker, is confident of finding a buyer.
"The market has come back,'' he said, "and can handle a really nice, high-end development.''
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate