ST. PETERSBURG — With luxury condominiums selling well along St. Petersburg's waterfront, downtown real estate may soon get a boost inland.
A Cleveland-based developer announced Friday that it plans to build a 300-unit, upscale apartment complex within blocks of Bayfront Medical Center, All Children's Hospital and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Design and pricing plans for the $55 million project are still in the early stages, said Kurt Kehoe, vice president of NRP Group. But as of now, the company plans one- to three-bedroom units ranging from 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet. Monthly rents would range from $800 to $1,800.
The apartment complex will have four stories wrapped around an internal parking garage, Kehoe said. Once financing and permitting is complete, construction could begin as early as this fall, with completion in late 2013 or early 2014.
The NRP Group has yet to submit plans to the city, said St. Petersburg's development director, David Goodwin. But the concept does not surprise him.
"St. Petersburg is poised for the next turnaround," Goodwin said. "Great land is out there. Real estate activity is up. We would expect a number of projects to move forward in the next several months. Having residents downtown is a very good thing, whether it's a condo or rental units."
The project, which does not yet have a name, would be located on what is now the Tampa Bay Times' southernmost parking lot, an entire block bounded by Fourth and Fifth Streets and Third and Fourth Avenues S. It currently holds space for about 350 cars.
NRP and Times Publishing Co. signed a purchase agreement Thursday, with closing scheduled for Aug. 1. Neither side would reveal the sale price, but the land is valued for tax purposes at $2.8 million.
The Times downtown staff has shrunk in recent years, requiring less parking.
By contract, the Times will retain control of 300 spaces in the apartment's four-story garage, which will allow the newspaper to meet parking code requirements for its headquarters building two blocks to the north.
But apartment renters also may use those spaces if the newspaper's employees don't fill them, Kehoe said.
"This is a good deal for us and a really good deal for St. Petersburg," said Jana Jones, Times Publishing's chief financial officer. "We are pleased to see such a strong sign of economic vitality in downtown St. Petersburg."
Recent economic forces make apartments a promising arena for developers, Kehoe said.
Mortgages are harder to come by and "for a long time, people thought homeownership was an investment vehicle. Now it is abundantly clear that that is not the case."
Large, higher-end apartments, in particular, are rare in this market, he said.
One broke ground this week in Tampa's Channel District. Fusion 1560, near Tropicana Field, opened to residents in late 2010 and has proved popular with young professionals.
"Our design will be more vintage than Fusion's, not as edgy," Kehoe said. And the target market might be a little older — like doctors, nurses and administrators from a medical complex several blocks to the south.
"We expect people who will be more likely to appreciate the waterfront and parks and museums."
The NRP project will feature high ceilings, upscale flooring and trendy kitchens, plus common amenities like a swimming pool, coffee bar and fitness center.
NRP owns about 10,000 apartment units nationally, centered in the Midwest, Texas and North Carolina, Kehoe said. The company already is building or planning several other Florida projects, hoping to add about 2,000 units by the end of 2013.
The Fourth Avenue S project would be the only one in the Tampa Bay area. Orlando-based Zom Development will help build the apartments, Kehoe said.
A decade ago, Zom built the nearby Madison apartments, a project that was similar in size and target market. It has since been sold and converted into condominiums.
Late last year, NRP proposed an 80-unit affordable-housing project on one slice of the Times parking lot, but state funding for that deal fell through, Kehoe said.
A full-fledged apartment complex "makes tremendous sense," said Buddy Sauter, a commercial real estate broker in St. Petersburg.
"We've seen the condos fill up like you wouldn't believe. Fusion has done quite well. I'm seeing strong recovery broadly through small and medium-size businesses.
"They are going to make a lot of money, bring a lot of residents to St. Petersburg, and that's going to help every business downtown."