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Snell Isle condos are back on, with solid financing

ST. PETERSBURG — The developers who shelved plans for a luxury condo tower on Snell Isle five years ago are lifting their foot off the brakes.

Local developer Carlos Yepes and his highly capitalized West Palm Beach partner, the Kolter Group, hope to start building two nine-story condo towers on Snell Isle Boulevard just south of the bridge to Overlook Drive NE before the end of the year. They will spend $30 million developing Water Club on Snell Isle. Plans call for two towers with a combined 84 condos with water views and 11 townhomes fronting the project.

A public hearing on the Water Club will be held at 2 p.m. today before the city's Development Review Commission at City Hall at 175 Fifth St. N.

In a bold move, Kolter will finance the start of construction so the project isn't slowed by relying on banks, which require 50 percent of units to be presold before lending money.

"It's a little different strategy or funding plan than everybody used in the last cycle. We are prepared to commence construction out of pocket with our own equity," said Bob Vail, president of Kolter's urban division.

"At some point presales will catch up with what our institutional lender will want to see, and we will have access to a conventional development and construction loan. We already have a letter of commitment from (a bank) for the project."

Kolter has built $3 billion worth of homes in towers and master-planned communities since 1993.

Based on the slim inventory of waterfront condos downtown, Yepes and Vail think they will quickly presell their condos, which will go for the high $400,000s to $650,000. Only five such homes in the six downtown residential towers with water views are on the market right now.

"The sooner it gets up the better. We definitely need that," said Tom Hallis, sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate on Beach Drive. "I have buyers who want water views and want to be in that price range."

Plans call for the units to have two bedrooms and a den with two or 2 1/2 bathrooms. They will be 1,700 to 1,800 square feet and stretch the width of the buildings with east and west views of the water.

"That plan, that price range, that location is perfect for our market and the pent-up buyers," said Hallis, who was not aware of the project's resurrection until contacted by the Times.

Yepes, head of Belleair Development Group, and Kolter originally planned a 14-story tower with 68 units with a starting price tag around $1 million and 7,425 square feet of retail on the property.

When the economy headed south they stalled the project, yet still reconstructed the marina and the dockmaster's building on the property in 2008. In 2009 they razed Snell Isle Plaza, home of the long popular Mickey's Snell Isle Market, because the building was old and costly.

Now plans call for shorter towers than what the neighborhood approved in 2006. Yepes said they scrapped the retail component because they couldn't get enough interested tenants.

The adjacent Brightwaters Tower condominiums are not part of the project and will not be affected.

"We expect construction time to be 18 months. As soon as we get permits we'll start building," Yepes said. "We will start opening for sales when we get (the third floor built). You don't get presales in this market if you just go out and put up a sales trailer. In this market you've got to prove you are really going forward."

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

Snell Isle condos are back on, with solid financing 10/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 6:25pm]
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