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North Pinellas buildings with ample space still a tough sell

CLEARWATER

Deals Are Brewing.

Real estate in Pinellas County

is starting to move again. There is hope, even for larger buildings that have sat empty for years.

One sign: Thursday's announcement that two long-vacant big box stores on U.S. 19 in Clearwater are getting new occupants.

On Friday, Ashley Furniture HomeStore opened in the former Circuit City store on U.S. 19 just north of Sunset Point Road. And, according to city officials, a Dick's Sporting Goods store will open in a former Albertson's supermarket just south of Westfield Countryside mall later this summer.

But local developers and property managers say economic conditions are still difficult. It will take creativity — in both function and financing — to put many of the vacant commercial and industrial properties around Pinellas to good use, they say.

"There's a reason most of these buildings have been sitting there for a long time. If it was easy, then somebody probably would have bought them," said Jay Miller, local developer and vice president of Equity Inc. "While there might be 100 users looking for 5,000 square feet, when you get up to 100,000 square feet, there might be only two."

The queen of the big empty buildings in Pinellas right now is the 820,000-square-foot former Belleview Biltmore hotel in Belleair. As the community grows concerned about the increasing dilapidation of the rambling historic structure, and the city prepares to launch a study of its possible uses, it is less and less clear that the building will be saved and restored.

There are plenty of other buildings in North Pinellas, several of them considered historic structures, that have sat vacant for many years and whose futures are unclear. Here's a look at some of them.

Evatone plant

4801 Ulmerton Road, Largo

Asking price: Lease only, $5 per square foot for block buildings with air conditioning, $3 for metal construction.

Size: Three buildings, total 300,000 square feet.

Year built: 1980

Owner: Cuna Mutual Investment Corp., Madison, Wis.

"We haven't showed it recently. When there was work on Ulmerton Road, they lost some curb cuts, so it's tougher to get in and out than it used to be. It's now in the city limits. … Utility taxes and franchise fees are added to the power bill. Still, I'm not too worried about that one."

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development

Centerpointe

(former Special Data Processing facility)

16120 U.S. 19 N, Largo

Asking price: $6.5 million

Size: 197,100 square feet

Owner: 16120 LLC, Tallahassee

Year built: 1985

"It's unique in its contiguous size of nearly 200,000 square feet. The best option . . . is to reposition the property as multi-tenant office space, targeting larger (20,000 square feet or more) tenants, primarily back office users. A successful example of this type of redevelopment is NetPark in east Tampa, a former regional mall. Then market it to national companies with back office, customer service or call center needs such as government agencies looking to consolidate and nontraditional education like charter schools and for-profit universities."

Hal Piper, corporate real estate broker with Piper Property Group

Belleview Biltmore

25 Belleview Blvd., Belleair

Asking price: Not known

Size: 820,000 square feet

Year built: 1897

Owners: B B Hotel LLC, a group of Miami investors, including brothers Raphael and Daniel Ades

The owners of the hotel, which has been shuttered for two years, are funding a city feasibility study to determine whether it is viable as a hotel or something else. Local preservationists have expressed concerns about the increasingly run-down appearance, and water leaks have damaged parts of the historic wood structure. The hotel property is listed for $10 million on a commercial website as a potential assisted living facility, but the owners' representative says they didn't endorse the listing. The town shot down the idea of a senior health care facility on the site.

"We're looking for the results (of the feasibility study) so we can move forward either way. We have 22 of the finest acres in the state of Florida. And we're losing $250,000 to $300,000 a year in tax money, sewage and water fees."

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica

"I think there's something wonderful that's going to happen there eventually. I'm just not sure what that wonderful thing is yet."

Matthew Cummings, owners' representative

Harborview Center

300 Cleveland St. Clearwater

Asking price: Not for sale

Size: 143,000 square feet

Year built: 1960

Owner: City of Clearwater

The former Maas Brothers department store was renamed the Harborview Center and remodeled in 1995 for a trade center and Stein Mart store. But the space wasn't well suited for trade shows, and in 2009, after Stein Mart moved out, the city was left with a downtown center that was rarely used and cost them $60,000 a year. The city wants to demolish the hulking center and open up the view of Clearwater Harbor, but its last tenant, a small deli called Pickles Plus Too, is suing the city, claiming officials are trying to bully it out of the structure. Any plans for the center hinge on the suit, which remains in negotiation.

Fenway Hotel

453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin

Asking price: Not set

Size: 56,000 square feet

Year built: 1927

Owner: St. Petersburg attorney George Rahdert

Once a tony Jazz Age resort, the historic Fenway overlooking St. Joseph Sound was occupied by a college, then sat empty. Attorney George Rahdert bought it for $8.2 million in 2005, but his plans for suites, fine dining and a day spa were delayed by city development staff and objecting neighbors. As the market melted, Rahdert's lenders bailed, and a botched deal with the self-proclaimed heir of a California wine fortune devolved into litigation. Rahdert, who represents the St. Petersburg Times on First Amendment and business issues, is looking for investors or lenders to help with financing or a development plan — or, failing that, a buyer.

Nielsen Media Research facility

375 Patricia Ave., Dunedin

Asking price: Not available

Size: 211,000 square feet

Year built: 1961

Owner: Wells Fargo

In 2005, Nielsen, known for its TV ratings service, moved 1,600 employees from Dunedin to Oldsmar and sold the biggest single property in the city to prominent developer Grady Pridgen. But after years of Pridgen failing to repay loans or back taxes, Wells Fargo took the complex and listed it for sale. The bank plans to demolish it soon in hopes of making the land more marketable. A Safety Harbor development group has expressed interest but has yet to submit formal plans.

509 Main

509 Main St., Safety Harbor

Asking price: the building is for lease.

Size: 5,000 square feet

Year built: 1920

Owner: Anne Blackburn

This two-story structure in Safety Harbor's downtown has had many lives. It was a boarding house, a restaurant dubbed Café Cheetah, later a small shopping venue named 509 Galleria. Now painted black and white, the building has sat empty for years.

"It's important to have every property on Main Street filled. It's the heart of our city. We need the owner and a business to come to terms on what can be done for the location. I've been here seven years and I've never seen anyone in it." Matthew Spoor, Safety Harbor city manager

Former bank building

101 and 105 Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs

Asking price: $949,000 for purchase/willing to lease

Size: 7,200 square feet

Year built: 1914

Owner: Nomiki Vavlas

This building on the corner of Tarpon and Hibiscus avenues has housed a bank, real estate agency, trophy shop, antique shop and small art studio. But since 2008, it has been mostly empty. The building has six storefronts — two on Tarpon Avenue and four on Hibiscus Avenue. A small T-shirt printer currently occupies one of the storefronts on Hibiscus. Tarpon Springs officials see the building as crucial to their effort to revitalize the city's downtown.

"The location is good and I had a lot of plans for it before the economy went bad. There are a lot of good walls behind that stucco and it's considered historic. I'm willing to come down off the price."

Nomiki Vavlas, owner

St. Petersburg Times staff writers Katherine Snow Smith, Lorri Helfand, Drew Harwell and Demorris A. Lee, and news researcher Natalie Watson, contributed to this report.

North Pinellas buildings with ample space still a tough sell 07/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 2:25pm]
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