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Loft apartments with old-school charms set for Euclid area

ST. PETERSBURG — This well-walked hallway where Jazz Age kids trudged off to learn math would, in developer Michael Mincberg's eyes, make a perfect one-bedroom apartment.

The elementary school's bells and old chalkboards — one with a decades-old scribbled missive, "I will not talk!" — would become trinkets for the lobby of the building, where lofts would be "luxury, historically detailed."

In the year of the rental, as developers race to the sky with new apartment towers, no building is safe from the cleansing influence of a developer's rebuild. Not even this red brick schoolhouse, opened in 1925 and long abandoned, where developers plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars transforming classrooms into 16 boutique apartments.

Bought by Mincberg last week for $300,000, most of which came from investor and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce, the old Euclid Elementary School will be scrubbed of kids' fingerprints and retooled into one- and two-bedrooms rentals, starting at about $1,000 a month.

A gantlet of city permitting and development work remains. But if all goes as planned, Mincberg expects to begin construction within six months and open for leasing this time next year.

The 13,000-square-foot school, at 1090 10th St. N, still bears relics from its grade school days. Hardwood peeks out from beneath stained blue carpets, and cubbies sit awaiting lunch pails and bookbags. One chalkboard still bears the scribbled name of a fifth-grade teacher who taught there in 1953.

During the '20s boom years for public education in the "Sunshine City," the Euclid school overflowed, with enrollment swelling past more than 500. But over the decades, many city schools went quiet as postwar winds pushed families farther into suburbia. In the '60s, the Euclid was made into storage for old school films and furniture.

In 1967, the building reopened as the Euclid Center, a special-education school that later became a source of protests from civil rights leaders — first over its segregation, then disrepair — before closing in the '80s. Developers proposed retooling the school as subsidized townhomes for local teachers, but plans fell through, and the Pinellas County School District sold it last year for $500,000. That buyer sold it at a loss.

The Euclid is impossible to miss in a homey neighborhood of hex-block sidewalks and Craftsman bungalows, and developers' success in filling units could depend on how well they convince renters of its historic allure. Northwest of downtown, the location lacks the draw of other under-construction competitors: Its nearest neighbors are an old church, a car repair shop, a decidedly unhip corner mart and a bus stop full of people who never seem to take the bus.

Mincberg, 29, is investing with Joyce, who is only one of his connections to professional athletes with overflowing bank accounts and a vague attraction to real estate. He has consulted with Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Simeon Rice to fix up rentals in South Tampa, and is working with another Buc to turn Ybor City warehouses into posh urban lofts.

Of Joyce, whom he has worked with in fixing up single-family homes in Tampa's West Shore district, he said, "He's been making money on the field. I've been helping him make money off the field."

For years, developers have retooled Tampa Bay's historic buildings. At downtown dining spots Red Mesa Cantina and Café Alma, patrons can order a martini from inside the city's first fire station. Nearby, artists keep studios in the abandoned industrial shells of the Warehouse Arts District.

Growing buy-in from real estate lenders and investors has only helped to speed up the tweaks on abandoned lots. A century-old former federal courthouse in downtown Tampa reopened this week as Le Méridien, a boutique hotel.

A retooled Euclid is already getting a boost from St. Petersburg Preservation, a neighborhood group that plans to throw one of its "porch parties," with local catering and schoolhouse tours, on the grounds at 7 tonight.

"This is the way (preservation) should work, and should always work. So often people just want to tear it down," said Peter Belmont, the group's vice president. "It will have a special kind of feel about it, and be more attractive to a lot of people than a modern apartment project. I'm almost ready to move in today."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

Loft apartments with old-school charms set for Euclid area 06/19/14 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:42am]
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