The highest room in the city has a classic million-dollar view.
In the 25th-floor penthouse of the Water's Edge condominium tower, floor-to-ceiling windows offer a stunning panorama overlooking Clearwater Harbor, Clearwater Beach and the deep blue expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. Turning to the south, you can see as far as the Sunshine Skyway.
Now that the first few residents are actually moving into the not-quite-finished building, the tower's developer is insisting that Water's Edge isn't built on shaky financial ground. It will be able to weather the sluggish condo market, its owner says.
"We're not really changing our game plan," said Grant Wood, real estate manager for Opus South Corp., which built the luxury high-rise. "We would obviously like to see all the units occupied, but today's environment is challenging. It just takes a little longer to sell them."
Water's Edge has the misfortune of opening at a tough time for Tampa Bay condo towers. Clearwater Beach condo sales are in a downward spiral. In downtown Tampa, two finished high-rises are bankrupt and mostly vacant, and another one might be converted to apartments because its units aren't selling.
Opus South won't discuss how sales at Water's Edge are going. But the company says it's confident that the building will fill up in the long run, and it's willing to be patient. The Minnesota-based builder points to its track record nationally and in downtown St. Petersburg, where it has opened two high-rises in recent years.
Its Clearwater tower won't be going bankrupt or switching to rentals, Opus says.
"Opus is privately held. We have a very strong commitment to our reputation in the marketplace. We have the financial capacity to hold onto these units," Wood said. "It's only a matter of time here. You have no idea how many oh-my-Gods I get when we show this building to people."
And that brings us back to that sensational view.
Tall and upscale
Perched atop a 40-foot limestone bluff next to City Hall, every unit in downtown's tallest building has a water view. That's one of its prime selling points.
Technically, the priciest penthouses have a $1.7-million view. That's how much they cost in a building where the average unit is priced at $750,000.
The creamy white skyscraper is loaded with upscale amenities: marble floors, granite countertops, a swimming pool, fitness center, steam room, outdoor fireplace and 24-hour concierge.
The building is done except for the top few floors, where workers are putting finishing touches on the interior, and the ground floor, where they're preparing space for a future restaurant and retailers. There are no commercial tenants yet.
"We want the right restaurant," Wood said. "We're looking to create a buzz in the evening hours."
A handful of people have recently moved in.
Clearwater investment adviser Joan Kochan and her fiance were the first buyers to close, on Aug. 1. They move into the ninth floor Monday.
"I have waited all these years for a higher-end project to come up on this side of the bridge because I didn't want to sit in beach traffic," said Kochan, who has lived in downtown's Pierce 100 high-rise since 1977.
Earlier this year, Water's Edge had to void scores of contracts with buyers because of a legal technicality. Many of those buyers were investors from out of state or overseas.
Today the sales pitch is targeting empty-nesters and second-home buyers. And the condos are attracting interest from a mix of Scientologists and non-Scientologists, Wood said.
Opus isn't marketing specifically to Scientologists, but units on the tower's south side do offer a commanding view of Scientology's local landmarks. Proximity to the beach is another draw.
As for whether the condos will sell, the stakes here go beyond the walls of Water's Edge. Clearwater is hoping that this high-rise and a neighboring one, Station Square, will help bring life to its downtown.
Although condo sales at Station Square are slow, the 126-unit high-rise may see its first residents move in around the end of October, its representatives say.
City Manager Bill Horne sees the projects as vital to downtown's future — even if their developers dreamed them up during better economic times.
"No one planned for the kind of economy we're in right now," Horne said. "If we planned for this, they wouldn't be here."
Ed Armstrong, a Clearwater attorney who represented Water's Edge in a dispute over whether it was built on a strip of city-owned land, thinks the condo tower is too fine to fail.
"There's a lot of market uncertainty," he said, "but there's little doubt in my mind that over time that building will be full."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.