ST. PETERSBURG — The view from inside Kahuna's restaurant is in for a big makeover.
Sometime next year, the restaurant and bar, a folksy fixture on one of the last undeveloped swaths of St. Petersburg, will be surrounded on three sides by the brick walls of a luxury gated community.
Owner Jim Kenrick may have turned down a six-figure offer to sell to the developer, Ohio-based Zaremba Group, but he's feeling a little "squeezed."
"They are a little bit like Goliath," said Kenrick, who said he asked for more than twice the amount he was offered, but was rebuffed. "They are trying to squish us nicely."
In the spirit of progress, Kenrick and the developer have agreed to coexist — separated by a buffer that may end up being over 6 feet tall.
There isn't much Kenrick can do; his property at 10515 Gandy Blvd., across the street from Derby Lane dog track, is in unincorporated Pinellas, and therefore not on the city tax rolls. His new neighbor bought all the parcels surrounding him, parts of which Kenrick has had informal agreements to use as parking for years.
The restaurateur was among the few people who showed up at a public hearing in April to share their thoughts on Tortuga Pointe Apartments, a 16.4-acre, $42 million development that borders Tampa Bay wetlands.
Knowing his fight against the wall was pointless, Kenrick voiced concerns that one of three residential buildings planned for the site would sit very close to his popular bar and grill, which can get noisy. And he lamented to the zoning board that he'd lose one of two vehicle entrances to his restaurant.
Several residents from the 26-acre Pinewood Mobile Village retirement park next door also spoke at the hearing, asking for a wall on their side of the property, which was not on the original plan. They got one from the developer. They have also raised concerns about possible traffic congestion on Gandy Boulevard and noise from the ongoing construction.
With the impending changes, Kenrick, who arrived in St. Petersburg from Arizona 20 years ago, is saying farewell to an era. Time was when Kahuna's was home to a popular beach volleyball league that drew crowds to sandy courts out back. His property overlooked weed-choked fields and old warehouse buildings, but it was part of the Old Florida charm. Kenrick planted coconut and royal palm trees to enhance his tiki bar decor.
On the other hand, it was years ago that Kenrick realized nothing was going to stop the tide of change. Tortuga Pointe joins other gated developments that have sprouted in recent years, among them Brighton Bay, Grande Verandah, Mangrove Cay and Vantage Point. Shopping complexes are completed or under way. Derby Lane recently beefed up its offerings to include casino and concerts. Kenrick sees the dollar signs, too; in the short term, construction workers will eat his fajitas and burgers, and in the long term, hundreds more may sit down at his bar.
While residents of Brighton Bay retained a lawyer to protest a planned Wal-Mart several years ago, another gated community is embraced.
"It's progress as far as I'm concerned," said Lenny Rickard, 76, a board member and longtime resident of Pinewood. "You can't stop it."
The Tortuga Pointe Apartments will include 295 luxury units that Nicholas Husak, Zaremba's Florida development director, said will "exceed the offerings of communities in the area."
Preliminary design plans submitted to the city show an urban-inspired neighborhood with three buildings. At least two would be residential buildings, connected by a clubhouse and pool, with retail businesses on the ground floors. Lighted sidewalks lead out to Gandy Boulevard, with 730 parking spaces lining the grounds. An undetermined number of the apartments would be set aside as workforce housing.
Around town, Zaremba is building other large developments: Fusion 1560, a 325-unit apartment building at 1560 Central Ave.; the Vintage Lofts, 245 units at Cypress and Rome avenues in West Tampa; and the Wyndsong Apartment homes, 265 apartments in the Connerton Development in central Pasco County.
Husak is optimistic about a rebounded economy. He downplayed traffic concerns, saying that the busy Gandy corridor, with an average vehicle traffic rate of 40,000 cars per day, was a great place to be when Tortuga Pointe debuts around mid 2010.
Describing Tortuga Pointe's architectural style as "old coastal Florida," Husak suggested that Kahuna's own style was not far off. The two can coexist, he said. As conciliation, he offered to build a pathway through the wall, leading to Kenrick's bar, though the details are not in writing. Kenrick hopes he may also be able to use the Tortuga Pointe parking lot.
Husak said the wall was necessary as part of the development's drainage plan.
"We aren't trying to screen him," Husak insisted. "It was simply a matter of economics and timing, and in lieu of building him out, we think his business can be a nice amenity to the people in our community."
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.