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St. Petersburg condos thrive amid economic turmoil

Its recent record of bankruptcies, broken contracts and busted lenders aside, the Tampa Bay area's condo tower market still has a pulse on the St. Petersburg waterfront.

As all-but-dead projects like Trump Tower Tampa hold off creditors in bankruptcy court, Ovation in downtown St. Petersburg will spend the week pouring concrete for its final — 27th — floor at Beach Drive and Second Avenue NE.

The $85-million building offers 45 units ranging from about $1.2-million to $4.4-million. Despite the high prices, two-thirds have sold.

"Amazingly, September was an excellent month. We had three new sales," said Mike Cheezem, president of JMC Communities, the project's builder/developer.

A few blocks away at 100 First Ave. S, Signature Place has sold about 200 of 246 units for an average of about $700,000. Best-selling novelist Michael Connelly snagged a unit. So did rock star David Bowie's manager.

Signature's big-time architect, Chicago's Ralph Johnson, arrived in St. Petersburg this week to catch his first live glimpse of his handiwork in six months. The 36 stories of the narrow, sail-shaped building make it the highest residential tower in Pinellas County. Every unit has a water view.

"No one wants to be on the back of the building. So we don't have a back of the building," Signature sales director Debbie Newman said.

It's enough to make a Florida condo developer grit his teeth in envy. That's because much of the state's condo market is in meltdown. Tens of thousands of vacant units beg for buyers. Prices are suffering accordingly.

How did Ovation and Signature buck those trends in tandem? Developers suggest it was their hot locations close to the water in an increasingly pedestrian-friendly downtown.

Their choice of financiers — Bank of America for Ovation, Fifth Third Bank for Signature — has kept them out of the turmoil swirling around Wachovia and Lehman Brothers.

Both towers offer designs that appeal to an affluent clientele, backed by businessmen who largely sidestepped selling to fickle investors.

"Our people look at this as their last home. They want to live here the rest of their lives," Cheezem said.

Ovation and Signature plan spring 2009 grand openings.

St. Petersburg condos thrive amid economic turmoil 10/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 2:33pm]
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