For years, the Water's Edge condominium tower loomed empty over downtown Clearwater like a 25-story monument to poor timing. The luxury high-rise opened in 2008 — right as the economy and the condo market collapsed. A measly 10 out of its 153 units sold. The company that built it went bankrupt.
Downtown's tallest building, its would-be crown jewel, was a bit of an embarrassment. "The Ghost Tower," the Tampa Bay Business Journal called it.
Today, this creamy white skyscraper is on the cusp of being sold out. In fact, there's only one unit left.
It happens to be a top-floor penthouse with a million-dollar view of Clearwater Harbor, Clearwater Beach and the Gulf of Mexico. You can also see the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa from there. Technically, it's a $1.5 million view, since that's the asking price.
"We're at the highest point in Clearwater, right here," said Grant Wood, the building's real estate manager, standing on one of the penthouse's three balconies. "On a clear day, you can see the Skyway from here."
Taking nearly five years, the sellout of Water's Edge has been a long time coming. It's also a milestone for a city that wants to see more residential development in its downtown.
Said Wood, "Our market needs this kind of success story if we want to get new projects in the pipeline."
Condo prices were nearly halved
When the original builder, Opus South Corp., filed for bankruptcy in 2009, it handed the $100 million project to Wachovia Bank, which bid $30 million at a foreclosure auction. The building was bought in 2010 by a California asset management firm run by Maxwell Drever, a bargain-hunting tycoon with a reputation for turning around troubled properties.
The new owners slashed condo prices nearly in half. That helped Water's Edge draw in a wider swath of prospective buyers.
The tower slowly but steadily filled up with professionals, retirees and downsizing empty-nesters. Wood says more than half the 153 condos are owner-occupied. The rest are Northerners' second homes, as well as 10 that are rentals.
At rock bottom, in mid 2010, prices averaged $220 per square foot. Since then, they've inched back up to $270 per square foot. But Wood notes that it originally cost Opus $341 a square foot to build the tower. With rising construction costs and banks tightening lending standards, real estate experts predict that it could be many years before another luxury condo tower is built anywhere in the Tampa Bay area.
Another high-rise in downtown
Clearwater officials are counting on residential developments like Water's Edge and a neighboring high-rise, Station Square, to bring some life to the city's sleepy downtown core, called the Cleveland Street District. The belief is that more full-time residents will help revive an area that's better known for empty storefronts, homeless people and uniformed Church of Scientology staffers.
Station Square is about 80 percent sold out, with 22 units left out of 120, said Dave Traynor, vice president of Smith & Associates Real Estate, which oversees sales for both properties. Station Square's condos, which lack waterfront views, are priced at $157,000 to $360,000.
The towers' retail storefronts on their ground floors remain vacant, which doesn't help alleviate the feeling of a sometimes-empty downtown.
However, other downtown developments could be on the horizon. Across the street from Water's Edge, a developer hopes to convert the vacant nine-story AmSouth building into a 52-unit condo tower. And officials intend to lure a developer this year to build apartments at the city's vacant Prospect Lake site.
Bill Sturtevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, looks at Water's Edge and Station Square and sees a bright future.
"Once the economy started to heal and these properties got under good solid owners, there was no lack of demand for them," Sturtevant said. "So many of the buyers have taken an active role in getting involved downtown."
Two Water's Edge residents, John Herndon and Craig Rubright, are on the city's Downtown Development Board.
Another, Jack Mortimer, has launched a group called the Clearwater Downtown Neighborhood Association, along with a website at downtownneighborhood.net.
Daniels Ikajevs, a Latvian real estate developer who lives in one of Waters Edge's three top-floor penthouses, recently bought the tower's 10,000-square-foot ground-floor retail space for $875,000. It's been empty for five years, but he hopes to get an upscale restaurant and shops in there. "Something that will complement the lifestyle in the building," he said.
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.