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Snell Isle condo tower project looks to get back on track

ST. PETERSBURG — A Snell Isle condo project stalled six years by the housing bust could soon be back on track, a new bet by builders that the thawing condo market has lucrative room to grow.

Developers of the $30 million Waterclub on Snell Isle, two towers of waterfront condos with starting prices around $400,000, say construction could begin around next spring.

The nine-story campus of condos and townhomes would be scheduled to open in 2014.

The Kolter Group, the West Palm Beach developers of condo complexes across South Florida and Longboat Key, has shrunk its original sprawling plans for 5 acres on Snell Isle Harbor.

The complex was designed in 2006 as a pair of 12-story towers with expansive condos and 5,000-square-foot penthouses, selling between $1 and $3 million. Ground floors were to be anchored by 8,000 square feet of storefronts to make up for the demolition of decades-old Snell Isle Plaza.

A lack of presales and the market crash scuttled development, and the waterfront land now sits as grass and asphalt.

Now, with condos selling out, new inventories low and prices on the rise, developers say they must build soon to soak up coming demand. Plans were submitted to the city this week.

The 95 condos and townhomes would range between 1,700 and 2,100 square feet, with two floors of parking, a backyard marina and a small recreational beach. Visibly lacking: retail space, which developers said companies were hesitant to rent.

Tucked away from the downtown towers that slashed prices during the crash, the Snell Isle project is one of the first local condo developments renewed by hopes of a resurgent market.

With high demand and low mortgage-interest rates, buyers are reappearing but are hesitant to commit to a tower not yet built, said Kolter division president Bob Vail. Builders, too, are gun-shy, weighed down by debt and strapped for financing.

"Condo development is such an all-or-nothing proposition. … You start, you go up in the air and you can't stop," Vail said. "An awful lot of people who were historically strong developers … were in distress, and having projects in distress, and they're having a hard time returning to market."

Kolter has seen interest from lenders, Vail said, but is also prepared to pay out of pocket. How prospective buyers will take to the new towers remains a $30 million question.

"It's a big waste of a piece of property" now, said Nate Chason, the harbormaster of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club's Snell Isle Marina next door. But "if they just had condos, I don't know if they'd sell them."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

Snell Isle condo tower project looks to get back on track 08/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 24, 2012 10:07pm]
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